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must in death your daylight finish? (-my sun sets to rise again.)

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Itachi doesn’t remember the first two years of his second-life with any degree of clarity.

 

No, really. He doesn’t. It’s a peculiar phenomenon to the former-Uchiha now-Black child. His sense of self-identity is rock-solid. He has known who he is from the moment he breathed his second first breath.

 

There are many ways a life can be tragic. Not many are quite as comprehensively terrible as his own. He lived - he died - A wretched finale of a wretched life. Death - Peace - Quiet -

 

Not for long.

 

Kabuto tears his soul from death into non-death, hammers it into an unnatural, un-living, un-worthy container.

 

And then - instead of death - birth. From one moment to the next. A not-dead corpse -- blink — a newborn. Wet and cold and shaking with biologically imperative terror.

 

Terminal depression hits more or less instantly. There is nothing for Itachi here, in this ill-fitting world, alien on a cellular level. Whatever beings populate this world, they wield powers beyond his understanding. They keep his body alive through unknowable means. Judging by their panicked voices and ever-increasing numbers, this feat is not easily accomplished. He doesn’t give it much thought.

 

Whatever their methods, they succeed in a feat of medical engineering. These mysterious beings edit, sculpt and adjust, they prod and yank and change until the body (his, Itachi's body, Amaterasu preserve him) is capable of sustaining the complexity of his soul. Of his thoughts, to be more precise. A miracle, one might say. A curse is what Itachi knows to be true. He didn’t ask to live. He desperately does not want to live. He spent a decade wishing for death, praying for eternal nothingness. And yet - here he is. Alive and workably functional.

 

His - what? Parents? Soul-kidnappers? Unwitting wardens? The humans in charge of his life are entirely unimportant, which doesn’t spare Itachi some osmotic awareness of them. Physically they are indistinguishable from any other adult-type-human, in that Itachi’s baby eyes can’t distinguish them. Not that he cares to look. He can’t even conceptualize having enough willpower to voluntarily look at something.

 

Their main distinguishing characteristic is how reserved they are. They are likely hedging their bets, holding their affection back until the strange infant’s fate is clearer. Alternatively, they could simply be phenomenally cold people - not unlike some Uchiha he could name. Their reasons are, of course, entirely immaterial. One way or another, aside from the medics, Itachi’s only caretaker is a being so overwhelmingly supernatural, that it’s almost enough to shock him out of his willful amble towards death.

 

The creature loves him with everything it is. It’s also a slave of some kind - which is precisely none of Itachi’s business. It fusses over him endlessly, rasps various lullabies that he has no hope of understanding, but that he suspects are thoroughly blood-soaked and gruesome. It is, perhaps most importantly, the only being, human or otherwise, willing to hold Itachi’s strange little body. It’s the creature that rocks him, pets him, burps him. Its leathery limbs provide warmth, comfort and security - all those things his baby-brain is wired to respond to.

 

He could, in truth, be its actual child. So far, Itachi’s limbs feel smooth and pink, but who even knows - perhaps this is what he will age into? Well. What he would have aged into, in the unlikely situation he survives past the day he is physically able to hold a blade.

 

In a sense, the strong vein of apathy dominating the depressive episode is to his benefit. He can’t muster up the will to actively end his misery. His wrinkly, fantastical caretaker is an impeccable watcher. He will intervene with whatever mystical force he has at his disposal at the first sign of visible damage to his charge. If Itachi ever manages to scrounge up the willpower to escape this strange un-life, he will have to take swift and decisive measures to ensure he stays dead. Who knows, maybe he might be granted the reprieve that time?

 

Drifting is clearly the only path forward. So he works on getting a firm handle on this new body. Slowly manages to manipulate his heartrate, slow it down, dim the world until only the eternal blackness of his mind is left. There is no space for despair there, or rage, fear or sorrow. There is nothing at all, the closest approximation of death his mind can build.

 

Regulus Black breathes his first two years into Itachi’s go at dying by sheer force of will. Or lack of will, depending on the viewpoint.

 

It changes - everything.

Chapter Text

 

 

The person who introduces him to Regulus Black is bland, unambiguous and entirely without consequence. In truth, they could have been Izanagi Himself, come down from the heavens, and Itachi wouldn’t have spared a glance. Not when they hold the most beautiful baby boy alive. Any notion of apathy flies out of the realm of possibilities. 

 

A brother - a brother - his brother -

 

The little pink ball of squirming human is everything that one could want in a baby. It’s loud, it’s wrapped in all the baby-fat Itachi’s medically-engineered body hasn’t managed to hold on to. He sleeps, now, little nose twitching randomly, tiny-teeny fingers clenched around Itachi’s.

 

Regulus Black, between one heartbeat and the next, becomes Itachi’s entire world.

 

Their cribs are separate but bridged together. They hadn’t been at first, but as it happens, Itachi’s new body is just as capable of commanding the strange mystical powers wielded by humans in this new world. The first attempt at separating the brothers goes peacefully - Itachi simply flies Regulus back without further censure. The second person who tries is pushed back firmly. Which is when they should have stopped to think about what, exactly, they’re trying to accomplish. The third unlucky person is set summarily on fire - following the tried and true Uchiha methodology of solving one’s problems. In deference to the probable lack of ill-will on the offender’s part, he focused only on their garments, and not, say, their eyes and hair. The threat is, nevertheless, clear.

 

His brother stays with him. Or else.

 

It’s his caretaker-creature who tries next, old and creaky and terribly proud. Its wrinkles are so deeply set, that they double as river-beds for the tears streaming down its face.

 

The humans audibly hold their breath, waiting (or eager) to see what will happen to the creature. Their - nanny? - is wiser than all of them combined. He snaps his fingers, producing a wave of force and a twinkle of not-there (but-absolutely-there) light. Just like that, another crib materializes next to Itachi’s. Another beat and a wide, padded bridge grows between the two. Grows. Out of nothing.

 

For the first time, a smile sneaks onto Itachi’s face - an atrophied, weak grimace, true, but a real emotion that isn’t a plea for death.

 

He knows - he knows - the new baby cannot stay within touching distance at all times. Which is why he doesn’t protest much when his nanny levitates his brother out of his hands and into his own bed,. The creature means well, he knows. It’s unreasonable to demand the two sleep together all the time. But damn if he’s going to let himself be more than a foot away from his brother. His nanny is perfectly capable of feeding him using Chakra or whatever the unholy cousin of Chakra this force is. He could - and will if Itachi has anything to say about it - feed his brother the same way. And his parents, well, they likely don’t care.

 

The volume and intensity of emotions wear him out pretty quickly. He falls into oblivion within minutes. For the first time in - decades - he looks forward to waking up.

 

A brother - a brother - a brother -

 

 


 

 

His life, he decides, began the day he laid his eyes on little baby Regulus. With that being the case, it’s time to take stock of what, exactly, is going on here.

 

He starts his investigations with the basics. What is he?

 

A human - perhaps? He looks like a human, his body is roughly that of a normal toddler of one to two years. He can crawl, certainly, and his adult-mind is perfectly able to guide his body into focused movement without much trouble. He is weak, weaker than a baby his age should be, but considering he refused to so much lift his head for all this time, it’s a miracle how functional he is.

 

What can you deduce about your environment?

 

Well, his worldview is sadly limited to his crib, and a little bit of the room. His eyes are just about capable of sight, but most of what he sees is blessedly boring. The decorations are predictably off-putting. There is, he allows, beauty in the grandeur, the drama of the golden elements, complicated, frilly designs and boldly painted ceilings. Shisui would’ve loved everything about it. Itachi wants to set it all on fire.

 

More important, and leagues more interesting, is the language. Alien it might have been, but the spongy nature of his mind came into effect there. He’s absorbed the sounds and the syllables without conscious control. The sound and shape of it are fascinating, from an academic standpoint. Vastly different from Chikyūgo (A/n from the word Chikyū which means Earth, the language everyone spoke in the Elemental Nations), naturally, but marvellous in its own right. Its sibilant nature, for one, sparked his interest - Orochimaru would’ve appreciated it, certainly. His caretakers spotted his new interest in the world, and swiftly employed (or obtained somehow, Sage fucking wept) a young female he assumes to be human for the sake of the clarity of his internal monologue. The lady - as uninteresting as everything but his brother and his nanny was - started his lessons swiftly and with great ambition. One that proved to be justified - no matter what body he’s into, his mind is that of a twenty-year-old genius. The sounds are odd, but his plastic little baby brain picks them up easily.

 

Obscuring his intellect would have been the smart thing to do. The Shinobi thing to do. He doesn’t, of course. His priorities are one (1) Regulus and a distant two (2) his creature-nanny. Everything else is ignored, with all the aloof disinterest an Uchiha prince can summon. He learns what he’s bid, and doesn’t give it thought beyond that. He may have cemented his place as a prodigy once again, but the situation is markedly different this time. This time anybody would be hard-pressed to manipulate him with the title.

 

With increased language comprehension, communication with his nanny becomes more than a vague notion. The concept of first words does not apply, in truth. Not after a life lived. The symbolic value, however, is not a trivial one. As soon as his tongue proved that it could wrap around all those ’t’s, ’r’s and ’s’s, he squeaks ‘brother’, with the minimal butchering of the word.

 

As for little Regulus, whose name he will learn how to pronounce at the absolute first opportunity, he lived and gurgled and made a mess of everything like you would expect from an infant. Neither of them saw their parents much, perhaps once every week, and even then from a distance. Their creature-nanny, however, is omnipresent. If they’re alone, he is in plain view, grumbling and creaking, petting and rocking. If the humans are there, it retreats into the shadows, available but invisible. A perfect servant (a perfect slave). Sensing it is easy - the being’s energy signature - not Chakra, never again Chakra - is subtle but strong - much like the being itself is. The three of them are a happy little family, he thinks with no little joy.

 

These halcyon days were, as these things go, not going to last, but damn if they were not the softest, most comforting time he can remember (he can imagine). Only once did he think for a moment - is Regulus - could he be - Sasuke? - before a wave of pain washed over him, strong enough that he had to bury his head in his blankets and focus on his breathing so as not to alarm the baby unduly. No, he decided sometime later when he figured he won’t erupt into a volcano of grief and insanity. Sasuke is alive and well, somewhere far away, in a world of his own. He has by now hopefully adopted a slew of adorable babies with that blonde boyfriend of his and had retreated to a mountain somewhere far away from Konoha’s poison. Regulus is Regulus. His baby brother, his second chance at not being a villain, a blight on the world. A person that will be happy, cherished and self-realized, even if Itachi has to slaughter continents to do it.

 

His nanny interrupts him before he can start making blood-vows, which might have been a touch over-dramatic from a two-year-old, but his soul is set, and a clear goal is in place. Regulus.

 

 


 

 

It seems like no time at all has passed before baby-Regulus’s first birthday has come and gone. There was no celebration, which wasn’t surprising since Itachi never had any. Instead, their creature-nanny informed them of the fact and spent a full hour summoning tens of thousands of iridescent bubbles, little shooting starts flying to and fro. Regulus found the whole thing world-changing. Itachi, who grew up in a Clan of illusionists, wasn’t as impressed by the spectacle as he was by the clear, bright bells of his brothers laugh, and the deeper, guttural grunts of laughter from their nanny.

 

By then, Itachi - apparently named Sirius - could speak more or less fluently, and could toddle about on weak, wobbly legs without much issue. Kreacher - their creature-nanny - remained their one constant care-taker, even if the river of medics was slowly replaced by instructors. The only real difference is the barely noticeable uptick in parental visitation. He doesn’t delude himself into thinking its sentiment that drives them since they routinely leave his brother behind with Kreacher. Nevertheless, they are not as cruel as they could have been. Could still become.

 

Separation from Regulus is - complicated. His mind is still very much a desperate patch-job, but even through the haze of panic and rage, he knows that it’s a good thing, in the long run. He wants, beyond anything, for his brother to be healthy and stable. He likely won’t be if Itachi can’t leave him for more than a handful of seconds.

 

He redirects the anger at the separation as best he can, and projects an air of cold majesty - Mikoto Uchiha at her best. He doesn’t smile at his parents, doesn’t bother with pleasantries or anything a child might do. Instead, they converse politely, the stilted tone and aloof manners likely looking completely tragic on a three-year-old.

 

If his parents mind - Lord and Lady Black, or Orion and Walburga Black, as Kreacher whispered to him covertly, deep in the cover of the night - they don’t show it. Instead, his father looks through him without care, and his mother lectures on and on about the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black - that he is the Heir to.

 

The small part of his mind not howling for his brother finds it all sorts of ironic. Once again, he is to be the genius Heir of an old and prestigious Clan, with all the responsibilities it implies.

 

“Do you understand, child?” Asks Walburga sharply, having sensed his mind wanders. She is an objectively beautiful woman, for all that Itachi can tell these things. Very different from his other-mother’s beauty, but the inherent strength of character and will is clear - both of his mothers are vicious, cruel when they wanted to be and confident in the extreme.

 

“Yes.” He answers, inclining his head slightly, fighting a sneer that would be grotesque on his face anyway.

 

Grudging approval flashes over her face before it’s smoothed into white marble. “Very well. We will move on, then. Your calligraphy lessons will begin soon. You will apply yourself to them as befits your station, of course. Regulus will be allowed to remain with you if your performance remains satisfactory. If not, he will be deemed a distraction, and promptly removed to the nursery. Is that understood?”

 

“Yes.” Repeats Itachi. He doesn’t speak much during these - meetings. Even they don’t really expect him to retain most of what is drilled into his min. He is physically a toddler still, and even the Black Family ambition has to nominally adhere to common sense.

 

Which, considering Itachi’s situation, is patently untrue, of course, but if it kept him from having to speak to these people at any great length, he will grit his teeth through the repetitive lessons.

 

“That is all.” His mother declares, very image of a stern monarch. “Kreacher will take you to the nursery. Merry part.”

 

“Merry part Mother” He echoes, folding his tiny body into a fair approximation of a bow. “Father.”

 

He endures their nods and is thankfully whisked away by his nanny before long.

 

Sage, these people.

 

The room rematerializes around them (and Itachi, like every other time, resolutely doesn’t dwell at the offhand use of teleportation) and he can finally relax. Stiff joints screech at him, body unhappy with being used so mercilessly for hours at a time. He pays it no mind because his brother is there, dozing and drooling, picture of angelic innocence.

 

“Are you well, young master?” Rasps his nanny, sounds scraping at one another. The being’s eternal caution of his Masters’ wrath is - something. Itachi certainly doesn’t have the emotional capacity right now to process the seething knot of emotions that rise whenever he thinks about it for any length of time. Slavery wasn’t a thing in the Elemental Nations, for all the complex shades and flavours of depravity that it excelled in. He doesn’t have the mental strength to consider the matter rationally, not when the only being alive that showed them any care, was a slave bound by the same ethereal force Itachi has been using all this time.

 

“I am, Kreacher, thank you for asking.” He tries to leech ice from his voice, which is only ever partly successful, but he makes up for it by leaning into the being’s arms and exhaling wearily.

 

“Kreacher is glad.” Soft arms envelop him, and he shamelessly pastes himself bodily to his nanny. It won’t be long until he’s taller than Kreacher, so he will treasure these all-encompassing hugs as much as he can. Not for the first time, he grumbles about the unfairness of not being Kreacher’s son in truth and not just in deed. Like all the previous times, Kreacher grumbles right back, how young master shouldn’t even be thinking such things, how he is certainly old and clever enough to know better.

 

“We both know I’m right,” he says, following along the familiar script.

 

“Silly child.” Kreacher replies, finishing the by now traditional back-and-forth. But the soft glint in his eyes is there, and his weathered old face crinkles into a smile. Itachi has decided months ago he will see these crinkles form into proper wrinkles, and his pseudo-parent will have proof of joy and not just misery on his face.

 

“How is my brother?” He changes the topic. There is only so much mush he can handle, without risking a flood of emotions that will imbalance him for weeks.

 

“Young master Regulus is as well-behaved as could be.” Replies Kreacher. “Fed and watered and growing strong.”

 

Away from any judging eyes, Itachi is free to toddle to his brother without minding his steps. His balance is predictably awful, which is as it should be considering his legs are about a millimetre long, and he is mostly head still.

 

“Will young master let Kreacher help this time?” Comes from the back. Itachi can practically taste the exasperation in the air.

 

“Not yet.”

 

Now in front of the crib, he closes his eyes, steadies his breathing, syncing it with his heartbeat. In-out. In-out.

 

When he’s fully settled into a semi-meditative trance, he starts looking for the odd energy flowing through his body.

 

The energy - magic, of all the ridiculous names - is different from Chakra by every metric he has (with the data he has available). It’s clear that, whatever it is, however it works, it’s not anywhere near as structured and orderly as Chakra was. There are no clear pathways that he can sense, not much rhyme or reason to its flow. The only constant he could find after months of observing it is that it’s shaped by will and belief. Which is why it’s strongest when it explodes out of him in an uncontrolled manner, reacting to a strong subconscious desire for something.

 

Up. Up. Up.

 

Thing is, for all that Itachi is by now very comfortable in knowing deeply that fire is his friend, and that he is absolutely capable of walking on walls and breathing underwater, he is no way as comfortable with the absurd notion of flying.

 

No matter - he knows it’s possible, he’s flown his brother to him hundreds of times. He’s flown himself to Regulus just as often - just never when he expressly intended to.

 

Up. Up. Up.

 

The deeper into his mind he goes, the clearer his awareness of his magic becomes. Right now, he’s deep enough that he can almost physically feel his magic wafting out of his body, suspended into a confused cloud. Not that it does him a whole lot of good, considering how wispy and unfocused it is. Untrained. Unacceptable, all said.

 

Up. Up. Up.

 

Kreacher shuffles forward, his own magic rising, which is a signal it’s time to stop. Kreacher has proven to be a supportive, if anxious participant in Itachi’s training, but only ever as long as he’s sure there will be no harm to Itachi. Considering that disastrous time when Itachi didn’t listen and proceeded to pass out like a goddamn baby (which, yeah), he’s inclined to listen to him.

 

“Alright,” he says, standing up from his seize, and shaking out his limbs as best he can.

 

“Next time, little star.” Soothes Kreacher. “You is too young to be doing serious magic.”

 

“Are.” Corrects Itachi absently. “And thank you. I will sleep now, I think.”

 

“Kreacher will keep you safe.” His nanny’s assurances shouldn’t be as soothing as they are, considering his age and, well, deeds. He could blame his infant body, but he knows better. It’s been a long time since anyone cared to keep him safe, and Kreacher is as valiant a protector as anyone could hope for.

 

“I know you will.” He whispers, wrapped around his brother, sleep taking him.

 

 


 

 

You can really tell a lot of things about a culture and a people, wonders Itachi - Sirius, fuck - by what and how they teach their children.

 

In his case, it’s more or less similar to how his first childhood went along. Not just in the militaristic, austere approach to childrearing, but also in regards to the material being taught.

 

The most obvious similarity is in how much emphasis is put on the hierarchy, and one’s place in it. Oh, some differences exist, certainly, but most of the attention is - at least for now - placed on a child being firmly entrenched into the environment. Who are you, what is your place in the world, how you are going to interpret the complex web of superiors (nobody), equals (a token few) and inferiors (pretty much everybody you will ever meet)? Dealing with inferiors is a field intricate enough to easily require a lifetime of study to truly grasp. Izanami wept, if only he didn’t still have to remember the same lessons by the Uchiha Clan, who were just different enough to cause never-ending confusion and frustration.

 

It’s times like these, he seethes, where a fucking Sharingan would be a fucking delight. Some Chaka-enforced perfect information recall, please and thank-you.

 

Setting aside the endless social conditioning, the underpinnings of the lessons were also relatively similar to those taught to Shinobi children. A significant effort is made to develop the child’s sense of self, which would be hopefully well-rooted and immovable. At least in theory. In practice, it’s devilishly hard to, on one hand, try to install a pathological belief in the hierarchy, and at the same time develop and encourage individual awareness. In his experience, the results tend to be a mishmash of arrogance and insecurity, where one’s sense of self-worth was tied to the position allotted at birth. Which, considering Itachi’s tragic go at villainy, tends to blow up in everybody’s faces every now and again.

 

To go through similar lessons now is - amusing. There is simply nothing anyone can do by this point to indoctrinate Itachi - Sirius - into anything. Well - Regulus could, perhaps, but other than him - good luck.

 

His fifth and sixth year storm by in a shockingly adult duality. There’s time for home - being with Regulus and Kreacher - and time for work - sitting through endless lessons on etiquette, elocution, mastering his body language, calligraphy and on and on it goes.

 

Walburga - and nominally speaking Orion - didn’t take too long to realize the depth of intellect her heir possessed and capitalized on that potential mercilessly. Stilted deals were made in even, polite tones. Minutes and hours of uninterrupted time with Regulus were her best, infallible currency. To be fair, he admits, she never to date reneged on a clear agreement, and so neither did Itachi. He submitted himself without complaint to whatever she thought to throw at him, and in return, he got time with his precious baby brother who has just begun to speak in full sentences.

 

Nobody has really brought up the matter of magic. Itachi’s magic was, as he’s come to learn, obvious, violent and explosive from the very beginning. A secret regarding his birth hangs over the household, that Itachi doesn’t have the means to find out, and Kreacher can’t physically tell or even hint to. He wagers that he lashed out when he was born, what with being dead and then alive and terribly upset about it all. Whatever it was, it was memorable enough to not allow any doubts about the strength of Itachi’s magic.

 

Regulus, on the other hand, has been growing up in a markedly different fashion from Itachi in either life. There are few better gatekeepers than Kreacher and Itachi working in tandem, and they have successfully managed to ensure their bright star grows up safe and happy at all times. His brother’s magic has, therefore, manifested itself in a much more pleasant way - flashing lights, wisps of music, hovering when exceptionally pleased, that sort of thing. Walburga hasn’t been present for any of it, but Kreacher has, and his word is beyond questioning - he couldn’t hide the truth even if he wanted to.

 

“Pardon the interruption, Mother, but when will I start training in magic?” He inquires of Lady Black, as they were wrapping up a session of genealogy memorization.

 

The odd question gives her pause, and she looks over her firstborn with uncomplimentary, shrewd eyes. “You will, as every Black has, attend Britain’s premier Magic Academy, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Children aren’t instructed in Magic use before they turn eleven, as their cores are deemed to be too unstable and prone to irreparable damage.”

 

They gaze at each other blankly for a long series of moments, both aware of the obvious error in that sentence. Itachi - Sirius for fuck’s sake - has been consciously using Magic for many a year now, albeit with great effort, and middling results.

 

“We, Blacks, don’t much bother with whatever petty bit of legislation the Ministry thinks to shove down our throats, but in this, the consensus was made and accepted before our time. Children are not to be instructed. What they do in their own time is, ultimately, up to them.”

 

Itachi doesn’t nod, because that’s a plebeian gesture swiftly followed by ever-increasing censure, but inclines his head gently, to show her point was acknowledged. Because it’s certainly acknowledged. What could possibly be the reason for this - permissibility in this one arena where an edge could be so easily gained?

 

“Your tutors tell me you have been performing unto our expectations. I have, therefore, decided you are deserving of a reward. The usual agreement stands, I see no interest in disallowing you to spend time with your brother as long as he doesn’t hold you back. Your reward it this: Kreacher has the permission to henceforth bring you books from the Black Library. You are not allowed to enter it yourself, and you will not be until your Presentation. Kreacher will bring you the texts you require.”

 

She pauses, piercing eyes scanning him for any sign of enthusiasm or disappointment. When she doesn’t find any, the corner of her lip twitches and the lovely mouth twists into a smirk.

 

“Do not mistake this privilege as permission for frivolous pursuits. Your Father and I expect you to take this opportunity to start your never-ending path of self-improvement.”

She waits for his aristocratic version of a nod and continues. “Some texts are dangerous, some are malicious, some will strangle any spark of life in your body. Kreacher knows them all. Keep in mind, should you die, Regulus will take your place as Heir.”

 

Itachi’s eyes cool, the only sign of her having struck home. The Lady notices, of course, and her smirk sharpens, transforming the casual cruelty into something a great deal more targeted.

 

“That is all. Merry part.”

 

“Merry part.” Murmurs Itachi, voice as cool and smooth as ice.

 

He is old enough to walk unto his own power, but children are not to walk through the halls of the House of Black until they have had their Presentation. Kreacher smoothly teleports him away, although not directly to their nursery.

 

Not for the last time, he praises the forethought and care Kreacher and he have put into this system. He systematically starts unlocking the endless blocks and locks in his mind. When dealing with Lady Black, it’s best to keep one’s emotions safely locked away, otherwise, you risk revealing more than you - or a certain little brother - can afford. His major weakness is clear to anyone who cares to look, but there are more, hidden in the shadow of his fanatical love for Regulus. His love for Kreacher, for one, they have somehow managed to keep a secret. His grudging determination to train himself into at least a passable level of lethality, for another.

 

His magical training has hit something of a hurdle. The most likely cause is depressingly clear. He’s simply too damaged emotionally, to wield the magic. He keeps all his darker thoughts locked away at all times, doesn’t allow anything more intense than indulgent fondness. How is he, then, going to attempt to master a force so intrinsically linked to his soul?

 

And so they have the basement. Working through the darker aspects of his trauma would be distressing enough. Stack on top of that a supernatural power best accessed on the subconscious level, and you have yourself a thorny little issue. As with any child of magic, his grief and pain have very material consequences.

 

The basement (what he’s pretty sure were actual dungeons to keep people in) is the perfect place to vent. The goal is a reasonable one. Nothing but decades of therapy will make him healthy. They aim to get him functional. A nice side-effect to the venting sessions is that they let him leech off the Walburga-shaped poisons. Otherwise, well. There are many ways to twist a mind, and hers might be spectacularly unwise, but it is no less effective for it. He would have become something as cold as cruel as she was if he were a normal child. She just wouldn’t be able to control the direction. A distinction no Shinobi leader would allow.

 

“Thank you, Kreacher.” He grits out, eyes already glazed with rage. “Please come get me when Regulus is finished with his lessons.”

 

“As you say.” Replies his dear nanny, tone solemn but accepting.

 

“Merry part.” He says, breaking every rule about social interaction he has been painstakingly taught.

 

“Merry part, silly child,” mutters his parent, before popping away.

 


 

Chapter Text

“Siri,” babbles his precious brother. “Siri woof!”

 

Where exactly his brother picked up this obsession with dogs is anyone’s guess, Itachi wonders. It’s not like he ever saw one with his own eyes. Everything he knows he learned from tutors and Itachi and Kreacher’s dubious artistic talents. But - little Regulus adores dogs to a bizarre level. More than unicorns, dragons or snakes, which is just plain odd to Itachi who spends more time than he should studying the enthralling variety of magical creatures. But - brothers will do as brothers will do. If it’s dogs Regulus wants, dogs he will get.

 

He’s done this enough times by now that the prep-work down is down to the minimum. Inhale-exhale, visualize the dog you want to the minute fucking detail, and - will it to existence. Imagine your magic filling the invisible outline of a dog - one slightly overlarge paw, then the others, the lean body, short hairs, longish snout, floppy ears, intelligent eyes, thin tail. Make sure your magic is saturated with the idea of a dog:  loving, enthusiastic, energetic, clumsy, slightly desperate for your love. Tie it up with determination, iron-clad belief you can, in fact, create the mirage of a dog - and - voila.

 

An objectively fetching little adolescent dog forms out of thin air. It’s all lights, in truth, shades of grey smoke, forming an image - little more than a three-dimensional illusion which is why it comes so easily to him. Itachi is no Uchiha Fugaku, but he was once a damn good illusionist. Before his eyesight became what it had.

 

The dog can’t produce sound - yet - but Regulus’s imagination is more than active enough to compensate. He shrieks in glee and is immediately off into an incomprehensible game with the dog. Itachi knows from experience the game will last for hours until Regulus is exhausted enough to fall to sleep.

 

Already, Regulus shows what a phenomenal man he will be. He’s miles healthier than Itachi is, for one, and every drop as intelligent. The five-year-old boy has matured in a very interesting way - innocence cannot last in the House of Black, not in any meaningful form. Regulus learnt quickly just how unimpressed the Lord and Lady of the house are with his cheerful nature and childish petulance.

 

The balance he struck is worrying but, sadly, the absolute best Itachi could hope for. When they’re alone, all the ill-gotten maturity slides off the boy, and he transforms to what he should be - a care-free child with more energy than sense and a heart big enough to engulf the entire world. Even with the darker lessons their parents have begun poisoning him with, Regulus never once believed them over Itachi - or over Kreacher.

 

If the old elf was soft on Itachi - and he was - it doesn’t even begin to compare how indulgent he was with the youngest son of House Black. Nothing that Regulus wanted was beyond reach, even if it had disastrous consequences. When Regulus wanted a fire-crab, and wouldn’t hear the word no, Kreacher straightened to his full size and popped off. An hour later, Regulus’ fire-crab laid forgotten in a bucket, while the two brothers worked their best to help their nanny with his shattered fingers and burnt ears. Needless to say, it took days for the inconsolable boy to stop wailing, so much so that Itachi had to resort to illusions to keep their tutors from noticing.

 

It’s hard to see such traumas now, when Regulus is shrieking and giggling and showering his ghost-dog with kisses and hugs. While his gentle nature wasn’t entirely stamped out, he has learned the art of shielding his mushy centre with appropriate cold personas.

 

“How were your lessons, little brother?” He asks before the boy can exhaust himself beyond hope. Kreacher usually reports on such things, t’s his nanny that reports on such things, but unfortunately Kreacher has been away for the day, tending to the Black Family greenhouses.

 

A shadow darkens sparkling grey eyes for a moment before it’s quickly tucked away behind guileless eyes and toothy grins. “Boring. I had Tutor Malfoy today, which was fun, but also Tutor Rowle.”

 

Hold the show.

 

“Tutor Rowle?” He asks mildly. “I thought Tutor Rosewood instructed you in the genealogies?”

 

He looks close enough to spot the flash of wariness - there is something his little brother looks to hide. Cute, but pointless.

 

“Tutor Rosewood is entering Seclusion soon, I think. Tutor Rowle was hired until her Heir is born.” The disaffected tone would be more convincing if Itachi didn’t know his little brother quite as well as he did. As it is, he knows that, if everything was as it should be, he’d have heard about nothing else but how the lovely Ms Mai will have a baby soon and how pretty the baby will be and how he will marry the baby or Ms Mai depending on the mood.

 

“Interesting.” Muses Itachi. “I wasn’t informed of this.” He needs to approach this carefully. Regulus can be tight-lipped at the most - inopportune moments - if he thinks he is protecting either Kreacher or Itachi.

 

“Have I mentioned Tutor Rowle was my own instructor once upon a time?” He says after a few minutes’ break.

 

“Oh, I know.” Mutters Regulus, with a surprising amount of venom. He realizes his mistake immediately and tries to brush it off, but it’s too late.

 

“Well, now.” Hums Itachi, while slowing down his thoughts as much as he can, aiming to defang the more impulsive aspects of his mind. While burning down this fucking tomb of a house would be cathartic, it will leave Regulus with nowhere to live. Not to mention the fact that his brother, miraculously, still cares for their parents. No, it’s best to think about this clearly.

 

“I think it’s safe to assume, little brother, that Tutor Rowle will no longer be instructing you. I will take over your lessons myself if need be. You don’t need to worry about - ah, boring lessons, anymore.”

 

Intelligent or not, Regulus is five. There is only so much complexity his little brain can handle. Something has happened that was bad, and now it won’t happen anymore. His unshakable certainty that Itachi can make everything better is not the best of things but it makes Itachi’s heart warm, so he can’t make himself dispel the illusion just yet.

 

“Love you, Siri.” Beams the little bundle of joy.

 

“Likewise, little brother.” He replies and focuses on summoning three more dogs because he might as well train his stamina.

 

 


 

 

“Mother, may I have a word?” He writes and sends the note off via an equally furious and proud Kreacher. He’s deep down in a razor-sharp focus, so he doesn’t need any additional preparations to face this final obstacle.

 

Which, considering the situation, is an interesting little knot. One way or another, it will pave the way to all future interactions with his blood-parents.

 

Kreacher pops back and spears him with a sharp look. “Mistress will see you now.” He pauses for a moment, struggling for words. “You will behave, young Master. You’s have done enough already.”

 

“You have.” He corrects gently, before mimicking a smile. “I always behave. Worry not. I am confident Lady Black will see things my way.”

 

Kreacher looks one moment away from twisting Itachi’s ear in frustration, before rallying. “Take care, silly child.” He repeats, before popping them away.

 

As usual, Kreacher retreats to the shadows without being seen, which leaves Itachi faux-alone with his mother in her study.

 

“Merry meet, Mother.” The tone is perfect, as is his bow. Things like this are easy to do when you’re employing the type of focus one learns via assassinations.

 

“Merry meet, child.” She replies. “I hope you have good reasons for this interruption?”

 

Itachi rises from his bow and meets her eyes squarely while keeping everything back but cold resolve. “I thought it wise to inform you Tutor Rowle will no longer be available to tutor Regulus.”

 

“Oh?” She replies, a flash of real confusion quickly wiped away for indifferent boredom.

 

“Yes. I have, as it happens, burnt his wand to a crisp, and damaged his wand-arm in the process.” He could keep the note of smug blood-lust from his voice if he wanted to, but with this audience, it’s likely to work in his favour.

 

His mother pauses for a brief moment, torn between curiosity, scepticism and an instinctive reaction to censure just about everything.

 

“And your reasons?”

 

Itachi tilts his head. “The fool raised his wand to Regulus. I took issue.”

 

A complicated expression passes over her face - too complicated to judge properly. There is satisfaction there, and rage, and doubt. Also an irrational repulsion - these wizards have an unhealthy obsession with their wands. To destroy one is to commit the gravest of insults. Rowle would be in his rights to demand recompense from the House of Black - and he might still. If he’s especially stupid he will demand an honour duel that will be fought by either his Father - unlikely - or his Mother - very likely.

 

“By yourself?” She asks in the end. “You disarmed and destroyed a grown wizard’s wand without the aid of, say, Kreacher?” Her tone grows from frosty to faintly approving, which for her is more or less a scream of approval.

 

“I am perfectly capable of dealing with any who harm Regulus personally and swiftly. As it was, Rowle was in error, but not so much to deserve a more - permanent solution.” He is playing it up, sure, but every word is the truth. If the fool harmed Regulus with more than stinging hexes and derisive words, he would be in a significantly worse state.

 

“Well, well, child,” Hums Walburga. “It seems my worthless husband had managed to do one thing right. Should I bother to ask how you went about it?”

 

“Nothing too spectacular.” He replies. “I met him at the fire-place and set his wand on fire with, I admit, some prejudice. It exploded rather violently, hence the subsequent wounds. The brute thought better at engaging me further, and flooed back to whatever hole he resides in.” A pinch of snobbery to tie the whole thing together.

 

Walburga chuckles a real-life chuckle, deep and velvety and very much in keeping with her aesthetic. He’s never thought to hear the sound from her mouth, but apparently, violence to the many and varied inferiors does it for her. Who knew.

 

“A reward, child. Name it.”

 

Well, now. This presents an interesting opportunity and one that’s not like to repeat itself any time soon. His dubious rewards have thusfar been double-edged things. Books, but only ‘appropriate’ ones. Choice of attire, but only ‘suitable’ ones. This is open-ended, and deliberately so.

 

“A barghest.” He doesn’t even have to think about it.

 

“Agreed.” Replies the Lady, slightly surprised, but ultimately disinterested. “I trust you are aware of your responsibility to the beast?”

 

“It will pose no problem. Regulus and I are more than capable enough to handle it.”

 

“That is all, then. I have to rearrange my schedule, to fit in Lady Rowle at the first available opportunity. Kreacher can take you back, and will acquire your new - pet.”

 

“Thank you, Mother. Merry part.”

 

“Merry part.” Echoes the Lady, already a million miles away. She’s dismissed him, and so he exists to her no more. Sage.

 

 


 

 

As expected, Regulus is over the moon about his new dog. The dog itself - a magical breed, naturally - will grow up into a massive, shaggy beast. For now, it’s a gangly puppy, more paw than body. Young it might be, but it’s far from dull. It knows very well that, while Itachi is nominally in charge, it’s Regulus who calls the shots. Its love for the boy is unfeigned, though, so Itachi counts it as a win.

 

Kreacher is not at all as sanguine. “Hairs, everywhere.” He mutters. “Young Masters have not a lick of sense between them, not one.”

 

“A friend will be good for him.” Murmurs Itachi - who really, by now, should be using his fucking name. “He’s got the two of us, but a boy needs some uncomplicated love in his life.”

 

“Young Master’s friends should not slobber.” Snaps the old elf. It’s all bluster. Even Itachi - who really doesn’t much like dogs at all - isn’t immune to the effortless charm of the puppy. Kreacher has already acquired him a comically comfortable bed, meat enough to feed a pack of lions, and a selection of toys each one more opulent than the last. He’d have included a diamond-studded collar if the dog allowed itself to be collared.

 

“Young Master will have a barghest to stand between him and any who would think to harm him.” Replies Itachi. It’s not the only consideration he’s had - the mythology around the species was fascinating, after all - but it’s high up there. A barghest is rare, available only to the wealthy, and even then most shy away from the - bad press - surrounding the creatures. Some went so far as to say they were close cousins to the Grim - an entirely mythical creature as far as he could tell. As it is, since the House of Black is already considered the Darkest of the Dark, Itachi figured they had little to lose there. It’s playing into the stereotype, yes, but it gained Regulus a fearsome protector whose howl paralyzes its victims. So. There is that.

 

“You’s going to train the beast.” Sniffs Kreacher. “Or make it wear a collar. One wrong howl and off its head goes.”

 

“I’m sure we will reach an agreement.” Nods Itachi. “It seems a fairly clever little thing, for all that it’s months old. We don’t have to worry about howling before it’s fully grown. By then, I’m sure it will be smart enough to see reason.”

 

Regulus interrupts their rather parental discussion - if only it was clear if seven-year-old Itachi was the mother or the father in this relationship. He suspects he’d be the mother.

 

“Siri, Siri, Siri,” Whoops the boy, bouncing up and down and left and right, magic lending him extra buoyancy. “A puppy, a puppy, a puppy.”

 

So cute.

 

“Yes, little brother. I am aware. I gave him to you, didn’t I?”

 

“Siri, Siri, Siri,” continues Regulus, undaunted by plebeian things such as narrative and conversation. “What will you call him? Siriii?”

 

Itachi can’t help ruffling the already messy locks. Behind him, the puppy is just as exuberant, if slightly less certain of it’s welcome. “Oh, alright,” he mutters and crouches down to give the dog a scritch. “Yes, yes, you’re adorable.”

 

When Regulus starts vibrating in place - literally because magic - Itachi turns to him. “He’s your puppy. You name him.”

 

“No, no, Siri, no,” babbles the boy, throwing himself to his new best friend bodily. “You have to name him, Siriii.”

 

Two pairs of pleading eyes stare him down, and yeah, alright, it’s perhaps best for Itachi to name the poor thing. If it were up to Regulus he’d name him Flower or Bunny or some such nonsense.

 

“Atlas.” He says in the end, crouching in front of the dog, meeting it’s intelligent if young eyes. “Your name is Atlas because you will have to keep my whole world in your care and not falter in your task.”

 

“Siri,” wails Regulus, overcome with emotion, and the two friends execute a flawless manoeuvre ending with Itachi laying on his back covered with a boy and a dog, both equally eager to show their appreciation.

 

“Silly children.” Rasps Kreacher from the back, but still leans over to scratch behind newly named Atlas’ ear.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Looking back, it was perhaps obvious that something was going to happen sooner or later. There is only so much smooth sailing the Universe will allow, before it decides to, as they say, fuck shit up.

 

In this case, the steady descent into hell began on the day of his Presentation. Not much has changed over the years. He’s grown a little (noticeably little, which was attributed to his irregular health), his hair is a bit longer (but not long enough to imply a status he does not, in fact, possess) and his gait a little lighter. The years have overall been kind to him. Regular venting sessions have helped, as had Regulus’s boundless love.

 

He will need all this newfound stability of thought and deed for tonight. The concept of a Presentation is not a new one. The Uchiha did something similar. A child is not technically considered ‘alive’ until its sixth year when it was ‘presented’ to the Clan, and later, the Outsiders. The noble Houses in this new world did something similar - they didn’t allow their heirs to be seen by outsiders - officially - until their ninth. Of course, everyone and their cat has heard about the Black heir, what with the inexplicable medical condition, the difficult first years, as well as great magical strength and an eerie grasp of wandless magic. That he was also seen in the company of a great big black dog, easily twice the boy’s size - well. It all fit into their preconceived notions of what a Black Heir would be. Beautiful, Dark, cruel, violent.

 

Kreacher dressed him in sublime robes. The style of clothing is gratifyingly similar to Konohan outwear - wide elegant robes with next to no ornamentation. It’s considered gauche to wear Jewelry at one’s Presentation. To get around this inconvenient rule - how is the House of Black going to display their boundless wealth? - they focused their attention on the material. The traditionally snow-white robe is made out of silk delicately interwoven with a silvery metal of some sort - a version of platinum, he’d assume. It’s shockingly flowy considering, heavy enough to fall to the ground in clean, unbroken lines, but soft enough to spill over his shoulders and back in soft, subtle lines. His hair is caught by a simple silver band, with a few curls left to frame his face. His hair only recently began curling, and he fell in love with it immediately. He is, to date, the second curly-haired Uchiha, after Shisui.

 

All in all - Sirius Black is a pretty little doll. Large, distressingly pale, grey eyes. Small, skinny frame, elegant mouth, high cheekbones. Very alien type of beauty, but even the Uchiha Elders would be waging war to get this boy into their gene pool.

 

Only one problem remains. One immovable, unsolvable problem. Unsurvivable, even.

 

Regulus has managed to contract Dragon Pox, which Itachi has suffered through way back, around year two, slightly before before Regulus shone a light into his life. Now a miserable ball of pain and hallucinations, the young boy was inconsolable. Delirious with fever, terrified and in a lot of pain, it was everything Itachi could do to leave him.

 

But - leave him, he must. The Presentation is the most socially charged event this decade. The Presentation of the Black Heir is going to be attended by every single Noble House in Europe at the very least, and a few more besides. His Grandfather Arcturus Black - the Head of House Black, and thus the highest born Aristocrat in Britain - graciously allowed the event to be hosted in Castle Black, and for hours already guests have been pouring in from all corners of the world.

 

Sirius has to go - there is no world where not doing so will be allowed. Their lives perhaps won’t be literally in danger, but torture definitely wouldn't be off the table. Itachi’s wandless magic is fairly good, but not good enough to stand up to two enraged adult magic users and win. He could perhaps assassinate them, but in a straight-up battle - he’d be toast.

 

Kreacher is aware of the facts of life as he is. Since elves can’t catch the highly contagious disease he’s been run ragged between his normal duties and keeping his baby brother calm. He had to leave Regulus in the care of Atlas, so he could get Sirius ready. Sage, let’s just get this over with.

 

“Come, boy.” Drawls Orion. Sirius has so far heard the man speak less than ten times. As per the norm, his father is disinterested in the extreme. “Your Mother awaits.”

 

Well, he thinks, that is also per the norm. There is only ever one thing on his father’s mind, and that is his Lady Wife. Gods willing it’s only an unhealthy obsession and not something more - engineered - by the interested parties.

 

“Of course.” He murmurs, and straightens as best he can, taking care the robe falls as it should around him.

 

His mother waits at the top of the stairs, leading to the floo. She’s resplendent, as usual, dark hair twisted in a complicated updo, black dress clinging to her body. She doesn’t bother with jewels, a hint of her own eccentricity shining through, and the grey of her eyes stands out dramatically against the daring - inappropriate - eye makeup. Her lips are red and glistening, the effect of freshly spilt venous blood.

 

Visually, the two adults make for a striking pair. Orion is objectively handsome, tall, and blessed with genetics borne out of generations of people bred for their good looks. He’s nothing compared to her - not because of any physical flaw, but because of how weak he is. The disparity would be obvious even if Orion wasn’t contrasted with one of the more strong-willed people Itachi has met in either life.

 

“Lord Black will be arriving shortly.” Walburga hisses. “There is no time for your nonsense.”

 

She’s talking to Orion, but Sirius makes the calculated risk. “Apologies, Mother. I was caught admiring the robe.”

 

“Children.” Spits the Lady, fire and ice fighting in her eyes. She spins around, and starts making her way downstairs, followed closely by her most adoring fan.

 

Sirius is about to step onto the stairs when a wail and a crash blare from behind. His ears start ringing, even as static fills his brain. What - is Regulus -?

 

He spins around wildly, tensing, hoping for - what -

 

Kreacher freezes next to him, wide eyes terrified but - not for Regulus. His eyes snap between Itachi, the Nursery and the two adults that have begun to cotton on there are to be even further delays.

 

It would be a lie to say his worst fears came true, but with how frightened he is, he is in no shape to hear the cries and the audible fear in his brother's calls. It’s my name he’s calling. My brother needs me.

 

Three things happen at the same time. One: Regulus bursts through the door, leaning on Atlas heavily, eyes unseeing, burning with fever. Two: Itachi starts moving towards his brother, resolve interlocking with every single insane part of his mind until he’s frenzied enough to spit in the eye of the Shinigami if it thinks to stand between him and his star. Three: Orion Black and Walburga Black realize their sons are undertaking some sort of a rebellion, and start climbing the stairs with icy fury.

 

“Siri,” babbles Regulus, walking blindly, using his magic and Atlas as a crutch. “Siri, hurts. Siri.”

 

Itachi lunges for his brother, robes forgotten, intent on doing anything - everything - something -

 

Walburga hisses in a deathly even tone. “You have one second to come here, child. Neither of you will enjoy the consequences should you continue on this path.”

 

Itachi ignores the irrelevant noise and falls to his knees in front of his brother. What is - did something happen- is Regulus -

 

Regulus appears by every metric he has, to be perfectly hale and healthy. Well - in the throes of a dangerous disease, and having a miserable time with it, but nothing outside of that. So how did he - Did Atlas help break him out of their nursery, so they could find Itachi? The dog is wary now, frozen still and eying the approaching threat. He knows his role is next to Regulus who only stands because of the death-grip on the long fur.

 

A bit calmer, but just a bit, he can afford to think - what - how will they get through this fucking mess -

 

An invisible force rips him from his brother, and he flies through the air. Not for nothing did he spend years training just for situations like these. He twists in the air immediately but - he’s held, immobile, floating in the air like a Goddamn lump. A subvocal growl escapes Atlas, and he’s properly defensive, now, balance distributed evenly.

 

Their parents - of course. Walburga has her wand trained on him, while Orion sends a curse at Atlas - an eerie green light - followed closely by a sickly orange light at Regulus. Itachi doesn’t know the words of the first curse, and the second one was wordless - but he doubts either one will be good - he can’t move - he can only watch -

 

The light hits Regulus, he screams and continues screaming. Atlas on the other hand falls down motionless, and Itachi knows, somehow, that the dog is dead. Itachi is held in the air by Walburga’s spell, immobilized and forced to watch -

 

- a red haze falls on his mind, teeth itching for blood. Moving entirely on instincts not made in this life, his magic for once blends in perfectly with his Shinobi training. Walburga - not expecting an attack because she’s an arrogant, bigoted bitch - flies back, hits the wall and crumples with a satisfying crunch. Not dead - yet - but unconscious at the very least. He drops to the ground, light as a cat, entirely focused on -

 

Orion fucking Black - his target - the witless traitor. The imbecile who cursed his son, his seven-year-old son delirious with fever. Who murdered their dog. The dead-man who isn’t clever enough to know he’s already dead.

 

Black spins around at the sound of his wife’s scream. The KI in his eyes and magic is just about the first sign of a spine in the worm. Being that he is a worm, instead of lethal, his rage makes him predictably stupid. Itachi, however, has fallen into battle-focus, his magic obeying his subconscious instincts. He rushes forward, enhanced muscles swallowing the distance easily. This will be no clean, clinical attack. No, there is one way to handle fathers who curse their children - which provides the added bonus of ending the curse still torturing his little brother.

 

Physical combat isn’t something that wizards are familiar with. Being attacked by a Shinobi-trained wizard doubly so. Child or not, it’s not Sirius Black that’s about to execute this poor excuse for a man. It is Uchiha Itachi. And Uchiha Itachi has a long history of executing much less deserving family members without faltering.

 

A blood-red curse flies, catching him in the arm. Irrelevant. A cut is opened across his upper arm, but apart from the initial burst, no blood flows. Kreacher - frozen in mute terror - snaps his fingers and an invisible barrier forms. Itachi is still wounded, but the loyal elf’s barrier stops the blood from exiting his body. Orion - too far gone to even think about elves - eyes the barrier with some wariness, thinking it’s Itachi’s magic. Oh no, asshole, Itachi’s magic isn’t meant for anything as tame as healing. No, no, let’s see what Itachi’s magic can do.

 

Now less than a meter away from the man, he jumps, up, up. Left-arm catches Orion by the shoulder, and the right-hand closes around his throat. He twists, tenses, and knees him in the abdomen with all the magic-enhanced strength he can produce. It’s - a lot. Ribs snap - one - two - three - four. CrunchCrunchCrunchCrunch. Good.

 

The weak little man falls down, screaming, coughing - good, I hope the shattered ribs punctured your lungs. I hope you feel the blood rising in your lungs. Feel yourself drown slowly.

 

Regulus’s screams stop. As he suspected - the vile man consciously kept the curse throughout all the drama. He was angry enough to kill his eldest son but still had focus enough to continue torturing the younger. The younger who still lies on the corpse of their dog.

 

Having sufficiently de-fanged his enemies, he can afford a moment to think. He stands over the wheezing man, wondering - should he settle for watching him die? Is he merciful enough to leave it at that?

 

His moral dilemma is neatly solved by Regulus. The boy is too delirious to understand exactly what has transpired, but he’s damn well aware that Atlas is dead. The pitch of his screams turn from pain to grief.

 

“Well, now, father,” Uchiha Itachi muses, struggling to speak English and not Chikyūgo. “How unfortunate for you, that your mindless devotion to a short-sighted imbecile will see you dead here and now. I should take your head to the Presentation, and use it as a trophy. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

 

He places one small, bare foot on his father’s heaving chest, the man obviously struggling to breathe. He presses down gently, not enough to kill him, but enough to hurt. Animal, instinctive fear enters the hazy grey eyes, and his weak struggles increase.

 

“Is this how you wanted to spend your son’s birthday? Dying like a worm, choking on your own blood?”

 

“That. Is. Enough.” Comes from downstairs.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Lord Arcturus Black climbs the stairs, wand in hand. His body shimmers, ethereal with Family Magic. Static crackles in the air, and the weaker light-fixtures sputter out weakly.

 

Itachi tenses, a hurricane of maniacal rage taking exception at being thwarted. At the same time, his magic - resonates - with the Lord’s. Compartmentalize, come on. It’s been a few years since he had to lock down such large swathes of his mind, but that, at least, is a skill you don’t lose. His breaths grow short, as he pants through the impotent fury, the physical need to deal with the threat.

 

With slow, painful movements he jerks his foot off the dying man’s chest and stumbles back. Eyes down, head bowed, don’t let the Lord see just how difficult it is to reign in the monster. No, no, come on, you know better than this. You may be as monstrous as you please, as long as you show yourself to be safely leashed. Part by part, his personality is locked up, until little remains but a mission-ready assassin.

 

Temporarily free from the shackles of emotion and humanity, he straightens and looks calmly down at his target. “Saved by grace of stronger men.” He murmurs and bows to the approaching Lord. “Merry meet, Lord Black.”

 

“Young Sirius, I presume?” Each word is crisp and pleasant to the ear, in contrast to the imposing weight of the Family magic. “Merry meet, indeed.” Itachi scans the newest opponent. Middle-aged. At the prime of his strength. Calm, collected, rational. Engage only in a suicide run.

 

“Yes, Lord Black. I apologize for my tardiness. I’m afraid you caught me in a bit of a bind. You see, I was about to execute your worthless excuse for a son. Should you be kind enough to withhold your judgment until I am finished, I would be in your debt.”

 

An elegant brow rises, but Itachi’s goading produces not a sliver of an expression.

 

“Some context, perhaps.” He says, cool as a cucumber, as if ordering a bar of soap.

 

“As you wish.” Itachi bows again, a delicate, flighty thing, matching the airy twirl of his voice. “My younger brother Regulus is ill - Dragon Pox. He is delirious with fever, has been for days and days. Tonight was the first time I was forced from his side and he grew alarmed. With the aid of his faithful companion, Atlas, they broke out of the nursery, and came to find me.”

 

Lord Black flickers his eyes from the crumpled form of a boy, weeping over a motionless corpse of a dog. Not a single muscle changes from the blank, affable mask. Grey eyes remain clear and sphynxian, but the magic - shudders.

 

“Soon-to-be late Orion Black saw fit to punish him for the audacity to seek his family when weak and frightened. He murdered Atlas, our barghest, with what I assume is the killing curse and started torturing Regulus with an unknown wordless curse, of a neon-orange colour. His wife, in the meantime, immobilized and levitated me, presumably to force me to watch the torture. I took exception to this betrayal and blasted her into the wall, dealing regrettably nonlethal injuries. Then I broke the traitor’s ribs, and will now proceed to watch him choke some, before claiming his despicable head and hanging it above my bed as a trophy.”

 

Absently, he admires how polite his tone is. Battle-focus is good for something at least. His ’s’ sounds may have twisted slightly, but it added a nice flair. He sounds more like Mikoto than Orochimaru, which is a feat that should be applauded.

 

Lord Black looks at him for a long beat. “Elf, is this true?”

 

“Yes, great Lord.” Rasps Kreacher. Most would see nothing out of the ordinary about the elf. His tone is calm, his posture is appropriately servile, his position is unobtrusive. Most haven’t spent their lives in his care. Itachi sees the shadows in Kreacher’s eyes, the newest trauma he was helpless to stop, bound to watch and suffer.

 

The Lord sighs and closes his eyes briefly. “For the love of the Goddess, we truly don’t have time for this.” He says. “Surely you realize I cannot allow you to execute my son, miserable though he might be. He is, for my sins, my only Heir.”

 

“I’m sure I can make a compelling argument that I would serve as a marked improvement. For example.” He focuses, and glares at the twitching, wheezing lump and looks - there. His magic twists - pushes -

 

Orion’s wand immolates. Instead of the explosion à la Rowle, the sorry instrument burns up from the inside, the core faintly glowing. If Itachi were a more poetic soul, he’d think the wand was as unhappy with its wielder as Itachi was. Since he’s an Uchiha, he knows fire comes for all things, with enough application of force. Finally, Arcturus’s eyes widen, serene composure broken. The taboo against destroying wands is not without its uses. One would think the taboo against torturing seven-year-olds and killing their dogs in front of them would be stronger still, but apparently not.

 

“Point made, child.” The Black Lord considers Itachi for a moment, obviously weighing up his mental stability. In the end, he settles for raising a wordless shield around himself. Itachi bares his teeth at him, earning a barely-suppressed shudder.

 

“In either case, you haven’t the years. I am not as young as I was, and I’m due an heir to sit the Wizengamot meetings. Orion, for all his faults, is competent at the administrative side of things. You might be a vicious little genius but nine-year-olds cannot sit in the Wizengamot, I’m afraid.”

 

“It seems we’ve arrived at an impasse.” Itachi muses, aware of just how unnerving he is. He has inched his way around the room so that he stands between his inconsolable brother weeping over their fucking dog’s corpse.

 

“Child, is this really the conversation you want to have with the Lord of your family?” Says Arcturus in a very reasonable tone. “You must know you cannot hope to win. Even if you were Merlin himself, the Family Magic would crush you where you stand.”

 

“But you want me at the Presentation, do you not?” The Lord starts slightly, not having expected he’d dare. “You can try subduing me with magic, which I will break sooner than you think. You can try holding my brother’s well-being over my head, which will result in the pair of us running for the hills sooner than you can think to disinherit me. Ultimately, you’d be left with Orion fucking Black, and his frothing wife, and we’d be either dead or far away from here. The only way both of us get what we want, is us being adults about this. A compromise, if you will.”

 

The Lord - relaxes. Why now, Itachi doesn’t know. It’s entirely possible the Blacks can only process aggression, and this is a language Arcturus is comfortable with. “How my son fathered a son like you, I do not know. You’re right, of course. I do want you at your Presentation, and while I need my Heir alive still, I shudder to think what would happen to the family if Walburga had a bigger hold on the reins than she does now.”

 

“In that, we are in firm agreement.” It’s, frankly, maddening to think - all this talk, all this time spent, and he still won’t get to comfort Regulus. Even if he manages to play this as best it could be played, he will still leave to go to a fucking party.

 

“Well, then. My conditions are simple. I want you to remove the blood from your person. I want you to be charming and beautiful and perfect, and not threaten to behead any of your guests. What do your demands? I cannot offer you my son’s life, you understand? It’s nothing personal.”

 

Itachi can’t help the bark of startled laughter at the last quip. Nothing personal indeed. A matching cynical smile curls the older Lord’s lips.

 

“I want Kreacher to be bound to me and no-one else - not even you. I want rooms where neither of those two worms can enter. And I want free access to books.”

 

“Reasonable.” Hums Arcturus. “Not even as outrageous as I expected. Tell you what, I will throw in a vault under your own control. If you plan on continuing to reside here - which I do not recommend - you need independent finances. Otherwise, I shudder to think what madness will descend upon this abode, between you and your mother.”

 

“You are most gracious, Lord Black.” Purrs Itachi. “I grieve for your position. It cannot be pleasant to be burdened with such an Heir. Are you certain there is no other option? Aunt Lucretia, perhaps?”

 

Lord Arcturus’s lip twitches minutely. “Are you stalling in hopes your father might yet expire? Because I cast a stasis charm on him already. Not a bad plan, but I’m no amateur. Now - do we have an accord? Remember - I am the Lord of your House. Your magic - and mine - will hold you to your word.”

 

“We have an accord.” Admits Itachi grudgingly. It was a foolish hope anyway.

 

A soundless flash, an invisible wave, the vow settles on his skin, burrowing into his flesh. He throws a dry look to his Patriarch, who looks all too amused.

 

Wait - Kreacher -

 

He can’t feel the bond, but he can damn well feel the body that slams into him. Dear, loyal Kreacher buries his head into his shoulder, for a long moment, visibly gathering himself, before tearing at his upper arm.

 

“I’m fine, Kreacher, thank you. Can you please - preserve - Atlas in some way until we can arrange something suitably grand? And check to see if my brother has suffered any lasting damage?”

 

“Little Master is not fine.” Croaks Kreacher. “Little Master is wounded. I will sit on you, see if I won’t. Let old Kreacher heal your wounds and then you can go be the perfect Heir of the Great House.”

 

“Alright.” He lets himself be manhandled this way and that, until Kreacher is convinced all his cuts and bruises are healed, and there is not a scratch left on him.

 

“I will give you three minutes to say goodbye to your brother, little murderer. After that, I won’t even have to punish you. The magic will do so in my stead.” Arcturus doesn’t wait for his reply, busy tending to his fallen son and daughter-in-law. Pity. Itachi hoped he’d let them rot.

 

This is not a bluff he dares to call. One step, two, he’s crouching down next to Regulus. He picks up the near-comatose child, still awake only by the force of pain and fear. “My star, my brightest light,” he whispers inhaling the scent he has long since memorized. “I am here now, your brother is here. I have chased the bad man away, and he won’t harm you if he wants to keep wearing his skin.” Sixty seconds. “Now dear-heart, listen to me. Kreacher will take you to your room. I have to go away briefly, to ensure the bad man cannot return. I have promised, little star, and magic will not let me betray that promise.” One hundred seconds. It’s a mystery if his brother is capable of hearing much less comprehending him, but it’s all the time for explanations he can spare.

 

“Sleep, dearest. I will be back with you soon.”

 

He stands, hands the insatiate boy to Kreacher, and sprints down the stairs.

 

“Acceptable.” Arcturus runs his eyes down his blood-stained robes, cut in several places. Charmed robes are well and good, but magical blood is magical blood. The pristine piece is ruined.

 

“A simple repair charm will not do.” He hums. “And there is simply no time for anything more elaborate. Alright.”

 

He passes his wand in circles above Itachi’s head, chanting a long, melodic Latin spell.  Layers and layers of magic settle on top of him, locking into one another, forming a complex fortress. This illusion will not break easily. An amulet materializes around his neck, a thin silver chain with a simple silver ouroboros.

 

“The illusion will hold for four hours. I will have you back here in one, Goddess permitting. Select few will see through it, but they will assume you to be the victim, not the perpetrator.”

 

Itachi’s lips twitch. “How scandalous.” He murmurs.

 

Arcturus hums. “You seem to be the scandalous sort of child, Sirius.”

 

“It would appear so, wouldn’t it.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

The floo deposits them into an empty chamber, but for a single Lady, in a truly magnificent castle. This room alone, with it’s high ceilings, and structurally improbable arches, is enough to send a message. Beware, those who commteth, or something along those lines.

 

The Lady glides towards them in a fashion of women too refined to stomp, that would still very much want to.

 

“Merry meet, Lady Black,” greets Itachi, with a perfectly meaningless smile on his lips.

 

“Merry meet, Sirius.” Replies a stately Lady, of indeterminate age. Her blonde hair is bound up in a sweeping, improbable bun, and her dark - almost black - eyes stand out next to all the pale-eyed Blacks. The imperious expression, the supremely confident posture, the slightly frenzied magic buzzing around her - she can only be his Grandmother, Lady Melania Black nee Macmillan.

 

The Lady drags a critical eye over Itachi’s body, pausing to consider the silver chain. The inquisitive glance she sends to her husband is met with a blank expression of a man trying - and failing - to suppress an ocean-full of exasperation behind a proper Pureblood mask.

 

“I dare not ask.” Declares the Lady. “Now, quickly. We’re cutting it close, as is. Ten minutes more, and I would have sent for you myself.”

 

“Trust me, my love.” Says Arcturus. “As bad as this looks, the truth is much worse. We will both of us have headaches for years.”

 

“Excellent.” Tinkles the Lady, systematically arranging her features into a perfect, welcoming expression. It’s a fascinating if disconcerting process to watch in another. Itachi did the same, once. He spent hours upon hours practising different expressions, studying the effect of tensing this muscle or that, to achieve the sought-after effect. The Lady is better at it than he was, and the smile slots in place with only a moment or two of the eerie in-between stage, where her entire face looked rather inhuman. “I do not care in the slightest. Do you have a prepared explanation for Orion and Walburga’s absence?”

 

“Not in the slightest.” Hums Arcturus, as they start moving towards the hallway leading to, presumably, the ballroom. “Any suggestions?”

 

“They remained at home to care for their son.” Muses the Lady. Not at all willing to waste much mental energy on this farce, Itachi doesn’t censor the instinctive sneer. It doesn’t go unnoticed. Lady Melania’s smile remains flawless, but her steps falter slightly, unnoticeable for someone who wasn’t looking closely to begin with.

 

Arcturus tisks. “Now, now, little murderer. It’s the best explanation we have.”

 

True. “I do not object.” He replies. “I merely think it an obvious farce. Not a single soul would believe those people would be moved so much as an inch to help a child. Even - or perhaps especially - their own.”

 

“It does not have to be true, child.” Chides Melania, after a beat of silence. “Or even appear to be true. It just has to be plausible enough to allow our guests to be polite about it.”

 

“As you wish.” Itachi inclines his head just so, letting the curls obscure his face slightly. 

 

“I begin to understand the shape of the events,” says the Lady, not in the least amused. “The night is young and I already need to resist the urge to curse the lot of you.”

 

“Indeed,” hums Arcturus, still infernally amused. “The boy grows on you. When you get over the bloodlust and the eerie maturity, he is not without charm.”

 

The Lady re-arranges the flawless draping of her robes unconsciously, before exhaling. “We all need that to be true” The long walk through the corridor is finally near its end, and behind the giant arch, a long staircase leading to a ballroom full of people. Hundreds and hundreds of witches and wizards, all gathered, waiting for the ridiculous spectacle to begin.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The buzz in his ears refuses to subside. He knows he walks - improperly. The guests - or even his family, bless their little hearts - can’t place what they see. They see it, though, and take note. He doesn’t glide, he prowls, moving on the balls of his feet, always balanced, always ready. His muscles are loose, his neck curved in the most arrogant arch he - the firstborn Heir of the Uchiha Clan - can muster. It’s all very primitive, honestly. Mikoto would slice him into ribbons for such a crude display.

 

He can’t help it. It’s not that these Wizarding Nobles aren’t fascinating, because they are. Most of them are powerful, almost all of them are stunning. There is a spectacular variety of all the methods beauty can be achieved. Humans - and other, more discrete species - of all shapes and sizes glide over the glittering ballroom floor, chatting lightly, putting on a spectacular, show of authenticity entirely divorced from reality. It’s an art-form almost. Everyone is in on the joke. The guests serve both roles, the audience and performers combined.

 

He should be cataloguing each and every one of them. Every man, woman or child could one day be an enemy, ally and everything in-between. Alas, this is a very ‘Sirius’ event, and he is decidedly ‘Itachi’ right now. His sense of self is - fractured. The explosion into battle and murder happened suddenly enough that he’s left floundering, trying and failing to fit his Itachi-mind into the Sirius-body. He’s tried to turn on the Sharingan over a hundred times in the past thirty minutes alone.

 

His gait might be wrong, and his blood might be up, but a mission is a mission. He focuses as best he can, and smiles, bows, greets and generally goes through the motions of charming the adults. Arcturus and Melania are right beside him, bracketing and directing his movement through the ballroom. Whatever arcane metric they use to choose the path, is beyond him. It is irrelevant, in the end. They are the reason he is here - they might as well be responsible for his movements.

 

The adults like him for the most part - which is not especially hard to accomplish. They are predisposed to like him - or at least pretend to do so. As Melania said, the distinction between truth and polite fiction is entirely meaningless in these types of events.

 

He’s quickly steered away from various foreign dignitaries, after nominal greetings. It’s clear they are not interested in any further interaction until he’s of age, and they’re here for tradition’s sake. At most, they want is to suss out his betrothal status.

 

The Lord and Lady are nowhere near as willing to let Itachi off the hook when it’s time to meet the native Purebloods. Every single House from he Sacred Twenty-Eight has sent a representative, most often both their Lord and Heir - or a variation thereof. Add to that a slew of Noble Houses - without the ‘ancient’ part - and then a gaggle of Vassal Houses to the House of Black - well. Arcturus hoped for an hour, but it will be at the very least three.

 

While his battle-focus in inconvenient in many ways, it does offer a select few advantages. It makes him very, very sensitive to the dangerous people in the room, for example. There is no rhyme or reason to it, the Lord of House Flint is a perfectly harmless man, focused on Herbology and little else. But the Lovegood heiress could cut steel with how sharp her eyes are. She sees through his disguise without effort, and it doesn’t give her any pause. It’s clear the little lady doesn’t have any use for him, and her dismissal is prompt and thorough. Her parents are much less interesting than their daughter, and they try to inexpertly cover for their daughters faux-pas, missing her exasperated eye-roll and how Itachi’s eyes glaze over in boredom. He’s charmed by the daughter, and bored to tears by the parents, is the net result.

 

Another dangerous witch is the Longbottom Matriarch, Lady Augusta Longbottom. The Lady despises him, both as an individual and as a member of the Black family. Which is - odd considering the Longbottoms have married into the family fairly recently. Her son is impressive, it has to be said. Irritatingly tall for his fifteen years, Franklin Longbottom, heir to House Longbottom, cuts a striking figure, well-proportioned, with features even odder to Itachi’s eye than those of the Blacks’. With a wider, almost square face, full lips and a broad chiselled chin, he looked the very image of masculine strength. The image of Kakashi superimposes on the gangly teenager, which is patently ridiculous. Maybe. Possibly. His subconscious is rarely wrong about these things. Something is dangerous about the Longbottom Heir. Dangerous and subtle.

 

“Merry meet, Lady Longbottom, Heir Longbottom,” Itachi says, bowing. House of Black is technically the social superior, which means nothing considering he is but a measly heir bowing to a Matriarch. The bow is a silly affair, bent from the spine, arms thrust slightly to the side with both hands open and palms pointing to the ground.

 

“Merry meet, heir Black.” Booms the cheerful giant, bowing at an appropriate depth. The appropriate depth is something of a thorny issue. Itachi is not the Heir - Orion is the Heir. But Itachi is both the Heir’s heir and a widely accepted magical prodigy. Where Orion is a middling bureaucrat and an all-around bore.

 

“A marvellous Castle, I have to say.” Franklin Longbottom breaks the silence with enthusiasm. “I’ve never seen the like - except Hogwarts, of course. But the old girl is nowhere as grand as this.”

 

Itachi blinks for a moment, trying to parse through the words, looking for an insult, a barb, something. Nope, no, nothing. Is he - wrong? Is this just a genuinely kind boy? Here? “Thank you, Heir Longbottom,” he replies, a bit off-balance at this outpouring of joviality. “I have to agree with you. I’ve myself never had the opportunity to visit Castle Black, so I am as astounded as you are.”

 

“Ah, yes.” Replies Franklin, lowering his voice some, in some vague attempt at discretion. Since the boy stands out in this shark-infested place like a beacon of hearty goodness, Itachi can safely say he is far from successful. “I’ve heard word of your ill-health. My condolences. And please, call me Franklin, or even better - Frank.”

 

Itachi throws a slightly helpless look to the boy’s mother. Lady Longbottom looks to be slightly despairing of her Heir - but also fiercely proud. She meets Itachi’s eyes, and for a long heartbeat, they reach a point of understanding.

 

“Thank you for your kind words, Franklin.” He says carefully. “My first years were - unpleasant, yes, but ever since my brother came into my life, everything is perfect.”

 

A wide smile breaks on Franklin’s face, and his dark brown eyes twinkle - twinkle - with joy. “Salutations. I have not heard about a second son. You are beyond fortunate! “

 

Itachi sends a chilly glance at his grandparents who are too well-trained to give any sort of outward reaction. He knows his point is made, though.

 

“My Regulus is the greatest thing to happen to the House of Black since it’s conception.” He says, perhaps slightly pointedly. “Your words are very wise, Frank. I am, as you say beyond fortunate.”

 

After a moment’s pause, he decides to go the ‘fuck-it’ route. “In fact, while Regulus’s Presentation will likely not be anything as grand as this, I would still invite the House of Longbottom to attend, if it pleases you. Regulus is the finest boy in Britain, and I’m sure you will come to appreciate him as I do.”

 

He feels, more than he hears, Arcturus sigh from behind him. The Lady Longbottom has misplaced some of her anger, replaced now by calculating suspicion.

 

Frank beams, flashing his teeth in a gutless smile. “It would be my pleasure. And, of course, you will be attending Hogwarts in two years, will you not? We might be housemates.”

 

Is he - joking? Surely, everyone knows the Blacks have always been in Slytherin? Itachi’s eyes narrow slightly at the older boy. There is something about him, something about his wide, earnest face that makes him think the boy is laughing at the entire world. His initial impression might have been correct after all.

 

“You are in Gryffindor, are you not?” He asks after a beat.

 

“Indeed I am.” Replies Frank happily. “Fourth year Gryffindor.”

 

“I - see.”

 

He has to be fucking with them. There is no way he thinks Itachi - infamous Sirius Black - will be anything but a Slytherin. Even Itachi doesn’t doubt he will end up a Slytherin one way or the other.

 

Lady Longbottom saves him - mercy from a truly unexpected source. “Everything is possible, I suppose. And should you end up in Gryffindor, I’m sure Frank will be happy to be of assistance.”

 

“Oh, yes.” Chirps the giant. “I am always delighted to help my friends. And we are friends, are we not Heir Black?”

 

“Of course,” says Itachi, getting the not at all subtle hint. “And please, call me Sirius.”

 

“Smashing,” beams Frank. “Well, then, Sirius, I have monopolized your time far too much already. I’m sure your guardians are eager to show you off some more. Merry part! Toodles!”

 

Itachi barely has the time to nod back, before Frank is dragging away his mother, smashing through the crowds like a well-meaning elephant. Itachi looks at their retreating figures shocked stupid by - everything. Did he say - toodles? To Itachi? To Arcturus and Melania?

 

“That boy, I swear.” Mutters Melania. “You’ve done well to chisel through Augusta’s preconceptions. But that son of hers - he’s trouble.”

 

“It has to be a game,” Asks Itachi, still slightly dazed. “He has to be playing everyone, his mother included. Nobody is - that.”

 

“You never know.” Says Melania, lips pursed tight. “He’s magically gifted, the only child of an old, powerful House, rumoured to be the direct descendant of Gryffindor. Perfect grades, wide social circle, and yet everyone is - unnerved by him slightly.”

 

“I can see why.” Replies Itachi, before finally pulling himself together.

 

“Off we go. There are many more Houses you need to greet.” Interjects Arcturus. “I second my wife’s words. You’ve done well with the House Longbottom. They will never be our allies - not while Augusta lives - but a neutral cordiality is not beyond hope. Keep it up and I will include a vault for Regulus.”

 

Itachi does so appreciate direct bribery. “I will do my best, Lord Black.” He says, a touch dry.

 

“Do so.”

 

 


 

 

Slightly more relaxed - and less willing to eye the jugular of every approaching adult - he breezes through the perfunctory chitchat with most of the Vassal houses.

 

“Be on your guard, little murderer.” Murmurs Arcturus, as they’re approaching the final throng of Nobles. “These are the people who will make or break this evening. They are our allies, and they will be least willing to tolerate weakness.”

 

And there goes whatever composure he managed to scrounge. His back straightens, he slams his mind into battle-focus and freezes his face into a blank mask - if slightly unhinged around the eyes.

 

“Very good.” Hums Arcturus under his breath. “Not what I would recommend for what one might call polite society, but it will serve you well in this company.”

 

Each man - a Lord of their House - is a fine example of danger to be found in men. Beauty is entirely the norm with these people, but their magic is nowhere near as leashed as the rest of the attendees’. Itachi does his best to scan for weaknesses, without being obvious about it. It’s time like these a Sharingan would be really fucking spiffy.

 

“My friends,” says Arcturus. A ripple of energy - magic - spreads around them - some sort of privacy ward, perhaps? He doesn’t imagine Arcturus to throw around words like ‘friend’ within earshot of others. “May I present Sirius Black, heir presumptive to the House of Black.”

 

Itachi bows low, every instinct screaming to not show his neck to a group of people so tangibly dangerous. “Merry meet, My Lords.” There is an art to pitching your voice just right - smooth and slightly seductive, without losing the cold and arrogant bite. Itachi once had it down perfectly, but he hadn’t thought to practice it much in this life. His result now is - close, but still amateurish.

 

“Sirius, meet our allies.” To avoid any notion of hierarchy in the group, Arcturus starts naming the Lords from closest to farthest. Clever. “Lord Abraxas Malfoy and his Heir Lucius.” Bow - nod. “Lord Edmund Nott and his Heir Dorian.” Bow - nod. “Lord Evan Rosier.” Bow - nod. “Marvolo Riddle.”

 

That last name - namely, the lack of title - could have perhaps given him pause, if the person in question wasn’t without a doubt the most dangerous person in the castle. Itachi’s bow is perhaps a hair too low than it should be, considering the presumed disparity of their social standing. He stands by it. Itachi is many things, but Shinobi is high up there. A brain dead Genin wouldn’t be suicidal enough to be unintentionally disrespecting to a man who could be Orochimaru’s soul twin.

 

A small, amused smile plays around the snake-shark’s mouth, and the man’s nod is as regal as you could hope.

 

Arcturus says something, which Itachi should likely be listening to. However, Itachi is not, in fact, a complete lackwit. He will not be the first one to break eye contact with this man.

 

For all that he couldn’t hope to remember one single identifying trait of the other Pureblood Lords he had just been introduced to, he has no trouble at all with committing this one to memory. Tall - noticeably tall, even in this company. Beautiful, of course, but with a slightly more - original twist. All British Purebloods share facial features to an extent. Sharp chins, high cheekbones, straight, narrow noses. Riddle has electric, sunken blue eyes, outlined by dark circles. His cheekbones are even more prominent than his fellows’, jutting out from his face in a severe line. There is something - unnerving about him. Every feature individually is as perfect as you can hope, but put together he’s nowhere as angelic as he should be. Too symmetrical, perhaps. Itachi once had the same problem. Sirius Black has a pretty but ultimately ordinary face. Itachi’s was symmetrical to a fault, which tended to disturb people.

 

Then there is the matter of his magic. Dark, thick, and violent, would be the first things that come to mind. A warrior? Hmm. Perhaps.

 

Riddle is observing him right back, although his gaze is less wary and more - bored. Faintly amused. Itachi can tell the exact moment when he switched his inspection of Itachi’s - Sirius’s - face and took in the ripped and bloody clothing. A spark of curiosity lights his eyes up, and he starts observing in interest.

 

Itachi forces his body not to tense. There’s no need to be rude about this. He visibly relaxes, instead, distributing his weight better, and mimicking Orochimaru as best he can. A languid tilt of the chin, slightly lidded eyes, a hint of a twist to the lips that could turn into a smirk or a sneer in equal measure. Shoulders thrown back, spine seemingly relaxed. All in all, the perfect mimicry of arrogance, while optimally poised to attack - or run.

 

With a small part of his mind, he notices that the Lords and their Heirs are quiet, apparently content to let this play out as it will. Remember that, that’s important.

 

The much larger, survival-oriented, part of his mind is focused on getting through this. It’s not about impressing the man because, Black or not, Itachi doubts any child is capable of such. It’s about not pissing him off, while not showing weakness. Complicated little game, all said. He appreciates the warning Arcturus gave him. He wouldn’t want to meet this man with anything but his full focus.

 

His attempt at posturing is met with - something. Interest, if he’s optimistic. Amusement is perhaps closer to the mark.

 

“Blessings on the day of your birth, Heir Black.”

 

His voice - suits. A pureblood’s voice with a twist. Too - raspy, perhaps. Half a note off from the cultured, urbane drawl he’s come to expect.

 

“But tell me, are Orion and Walburga not present? I dearly hoped to see them.”

 

Itachi doesn’t let any apprehension show. A man like this can’t possibly hold any affection to a weak snivelling worm like Orion Black. Walburga, perhaps, but even then - he doubts it. It’s a test. It has to be.

 

“I’m afraid my parents,” he allows a sneer to twist his lips deliberately, if briefly. “Couldn’t be here.” Careful now. Something in the back of his mind warns it would be very unwise to tell an outright lie to this man. “They are - indisposed.”

 

Half a beat of silence, and he continues. “I am certain Lord Black would be willing to inform them of your wishes.”

 

Blue eyes sharpen with an expression he couldn’t hope to decipher. “Interesting. No matter, I’m sure they will be happy to explain the - particulars - when I see them next.”

 

Is this wise? Absolutely not. Does he dare? Apparently so.

 

“I’m sure you will find the conversation enjoyable.” He says, a trickle of cynical amusement sneaking into his tone.

 

“Undoubtedly.” With the last remark, Lord(?) Riddle audibly dismisses him, and Itachi can breathe properly once more. Izanami wept, this man.

 

Arcturus places a light hand on his shoulder. Never a good idea with a Shinobi as keyed in as he is. He tenses, magic lashing out around him furiously. He has it under control in the next heartbeat, neatly packed up beneath his skin, but it’s too late. He’s now the target of the deadly focus of every single Lord, including Lord (?) Riddle, who smirks and shakes his head in mock disapproval.

 

“Now, now,” he says in what likely passes for saccharine sweet for him. “This is a celebration, is it not, and you’re among friends.”

 

Itachi breathes in as subtly as he can and forces his body to relax. “My sincere apologies.” His tone could be lighter, but it’s not as strangled as he feared it could be. “A momentary distraction, nothing more.”

 

The hand on his shoulder twitches slightly, before relaxing. “It’s getting late, Sirius. It’s time to leave.”

 

“Yes, Lord Black,” Itachi replies as evenly as he can. Goddamn, but he wants to be out of the jaws of these reptiles, and home with Regulus and Kreacher. “Merry part, my Lords. I regret not having a more substantial conversation. Unfortunately, nine-year-olds are burdened with inflexible bed-times.”

 

He tries to avoid the sharkish stares from the Lords, especially Lord (?) Riddle, and covers as best he can with a nerve-wreckingly low bow. Body armour. A thick magic-resistant band around his throat is going to be a must if he is to continue showing his scrawny little neck to these people.

 

 


 

 

“You have dangerous friends, Grandfather,” he can’t help but say, a few minutes later. They’ve managed to tear themselves out of the crowd, only by the grace of the fact that most of the people there don’t care about Itachi - Sirius.

 

Arcturus’s mask slips for a moment, which is evidence enough of how rattled he is. “Yes.” His eyes are blank, obviously deep in thought. “I admit, I wasn’t expecting you to catch anyone’s interest - at least not to this extent. I have, as it happens, underestimated you, grandson.”

 

Instead of the floo-chamber, he hustles them up a dizzying amount of stairs and half-hidden hallways, until they reach an entirely unassuming door. The nondescript door is, as expected, a distraction because it leads into a beautiful little study, not built, as most of the Castle was, to intimidate but instead for comfort.

 

“It seems I have to step in a bit more than I thought. A conversation, I think. Honest, or as honest as you can manage.”

 

“May I?” Itachi says, pointing to a lovely little armchair.

 

“Please.” Arcturus retorts absently, as he melts into a chair, and summons himself a glass of something, likely alcoholic.

 

“What, exactly, did you want to discuss, Lord Black?” Itachi prompts when it’s clear that his Grandfather is lost in thought.

 

“What, indeed?” Hums the older man. “To begin with, a compliment. I’ve heard snippets over the years of your intelligence and maturity. They were, if anything, overly modest. I will take you and Regulus to Gringotts as soon as possible, to establish two vaults for your use.”

 

Itachi inclines his head. “Thank you, my Lord.”

 

A conflicted expression crosses over Lord Black’s features before it melts into one of weariness. “Merlin, child, what did they do to you?” It’s clear the Lord regrets the words immediately, so Itachi does the polite thing and pretends he hadn’t heard.

 

After half a beat, Arcturus rallies. “Moving on, a warning: You’ve good instincts, and you’ve pinpointed the most dangerous - or advantageous - man in the room. Tom Marvolo Riddle is a man I dare not discuss, not even here, behind strongest wards in the Castle. He is beyond lethal, child, and you caught his interest. I cannot rightly say if that is a good or bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind. Always. You are too young for this, and there is an - agreement - about these things. Children will be left alone until the age of majority. Alas, both sides are known to bend the rules if it suits them.”

 

Itachi blinks and tilts his head. “I am not sure I understand. Are you worried that man - Lord Riddle - will try to recruit me?”

 

A worried frown furrows the older man’s brow. “I don’t know, child. But you’ve proven yourself to be a prize that any Lord will go to great lengths to acquire.”

 

We-ell this is an interesting development. Ultimately meaningless, but interesting.

 

“You don’t need to worry, Lord Black.” Hums Itachi. “I am not prone to impulse decisions. I will not be seduced to any side easily.” Not even yours is heard unsaid in the room.

 

“I suppose that’s the best we can hope for.” Says Arcturus, half under his breath, before changing the topic. “You still plan to live with your parents? Because, to speak candidly, your life has just grown even more important. It’s not just me that will be displeased should something happen to you. I don’t want to bring any attention to your branch of the family just yet.”

 

“I have Kreacher.” Shrugs Itachi. “I have my magic. As long as you make it known I’m not to be harmed, I’m sure Orion and Walburga will stay in line. They’re nothing if not slavishly devoted to the will of Lord Black.”

 

Arcturus blinks, unnerved once more. “As you wish. Expect missives, child. It seems in the absence of any other sane adult in your life, I will have to step in to make sure you’re not completely unprepared.”

 

“I welcome any wisdom you see fit to share.” Not even untrue.

 

“What a time to be alive.” The Arcturus seems to be talking to himself, which is either a worrying sign that the man is taking this even more seriously than he thought, or that it’s a calculated approach to put Itachi at ease. “Things were nowhere near as exciting when I was young, and we had Gellert Grindelwald running about. Merlin.”

 

There’s nothing for him to say, so he remains quiet.

 


 

Chapter Text

He doesn’t floo back - because he’s not a complete fool. He calls for Kreacher, who knows well how to play the game. Under the watchful eye of Lord Black, the elf is almost invisible. He doesn’t speak, doesn’t move unless he has to. He might as well be the part of the furniture, for all the attention he calls onto himself.

 

The goodbyes are procedural at best, both himself and his Grandfather having better things to think about. He places a hand on Kreacher’s back, the air twists, shifts, squeezes.

 

They rematerialize in their room. The room has gotten some revamping. The two beds that used to be placed on opposite sides of the room are now pushed together. Regulus’s potion shelf is shunted to the side, and any and all dog-related paraphernalia are gone. A twang of pain goes off in Itachi’s mind. Not now. Regulus. Kreacher.

 

Kreacher sags, visibly wilting. “Thank the Goddess.” His voice rasps even more when he’s tired, or when he whispers. Itachi understands him only because of previous experience.

 

“How is Regulus?” His voice cracks, and really, now that the adrenaline is running out, now that it’s not a live-or-die situation, dizziness and nausea make a swift and brutal takeover of his senses.

 

“Little Master sleeps.” Croaks Kreacher. “He’s - he’s - “ After a moment’s pause, the old elf digs up some reserve of energy. “He will be fine.”

 

“Good, good.” He hadn’t eaten anything in - a while. What then is he about to throw up?

 

“I’m going to throw up.” He chokes out. He’s out of energy to the extent that even the prospect of puking over himself can’t summon any urgency.

 

“Oh, child.” Sighs Kreacher, a world of hurt in his voice. Nevertheless, his nanny proves, as always, to be more reliable than Itachi. A subtle tinkle of magic and a basin is summoned, right next to where Itachi has - apparently - slid to the floor.

 

“The good news is,” he says after Kreacher cleans him up and helps him change into his comfiest pyjamas (not the ones with paw prints - those are sent to the basement, since he didn’t have the heart to destroy them.). “That the Presentation went well enough that Lord Black gifted us with two vaults entirely in our control.”

 

Kreacher looks at him with big, sad eyes, and doesn’t say anything. Itachi - bundled in bed, right next to Regulus’s

 

“It is - it’s good news.” He says a little defensively (a little hysterically).

 

“Yes.” Agrees Kreacher.

 

“And - I made some useful contacts for us. Grandfather was very pleased. Which is good.”

 

A warm leathery hand cards through his hair, and Kreacher squeezes next to him on the bed. “Yes.”

 

“And Regulus is - not fine yet, but will be soon enough.”

 

“Yes.” Kreacher’s voice holds no recrimination, no anger or fury or frustration. Just oceans of deep, serene pain.

 

“And - and - and Atlas is dead.” Is he - is he crying. How odd. He hadn’t cried - not including tears of blood which are a different thing entirely - for years. He didn’t think he had it in him to cry.

 

“Oh, child.” Sighs Kreacher, and he’s crying too. “He lived a good life, and died a noble death.”

 

“I could’ve - I should have done something.” God, but he sounds young. “I didn’t - I didn’t think -”

 

“You know you are not to blame.” Rasps Kreacher. “Master - he -”

 

“He is not your master any more. Not ever. You are free - as free as you want to be. My family in truth.” The gasps and hiccups take away from the force of the message, but Kreacher already knows all this.

 

“Kreacher will remember in time. I have been Master Orion’s since the day he was born. I have served many generations of Black heirs. That is a long time to learn.”

 


 

“Atlas dead, Regulus tortured, and for what?” He asks the world sometime later, after he’s cried about his bodyweight in tears, and forced Kreacher to dose him with three restorative draughts, and buckets of sweet tea.

 

“You should sleep, child.” Replies Kreacher in lieu of answering, old enough to know conversational quicksand when he sees it. “For the morning is wiser than the evening.”

 

“That sounds better in Russian.” He murmurs but obeys.

 

“Yes.”

 

 


 

 

By now, Itachi could write several books about the various ways the loss of innocence can look.

 

In Sasuke, well. It’s complicated. Itachi managed to not only destroy his innocence but also shatter his mind, which - complicated things.

 

Regulus on the other hand, at all of seven-years-old, has undergone something of a transformation. The dragon-pox didn’t have the decency to bugger off, what with being entirely upstaged by the rest of Black Family Trauma. Worryingly, Regulus fell into a deep sleep, for days on end. He woke up for minutes every twelve hours or so but was too delirious to speak, or see, or anything. After eleven days of agony, where Itachi interrogated every healer Kreacher thought up and came back with the same platitudes, the long sleep simply - ends.

 

Regulus wakes up with shadows in his eyes and weight in the angle of his lips. He was a child, before, at least for a few hours every day. After - everything - only shadows of that child remain.

 

“I love you, Siri.” Are the first words he speaks, upon waking. “I’m so sorry for everything.”

 

How Ita-Sirius manages to speak through the ice that just speared his heart is anyone’s guess.

 

“If you believe nothing else I ever say, believe this. Everything that happened, every single terrible detail, it was all to the last atom, the fault of Orion and Walburga Black. They’re monsters, but even worse than that, they’re traitors.” Whoo, now, what’s this? Some Konohan propaganda peeking through. Remember this, this is important.

 

“Yeah. Yeah, they are.” Whispers the old man wearing his little’s brother body. When he finally meets his eyes, they are clear, and cold, and merciless.

 

“Would you have killed him?”

 

“Yes.” Replies Itachi, without a pause, without shame, without defensiveness. “If Grandfather hadn’t stopped me, I’d have broken what little was left from his ribs and watched him choke to death.”

 

Regulus sighs again. “Yeah.” After a beat, he sags back into his pillows, a too wise, too young, too old human being pushed close to the breaking point.

 


 

“I think I hate violence.” Says Regulus out of the blue, standing over the freshly dug grave. “Really, really hate it. More than I hate Mother. Or Father.”

 

Regulus hasn’t spoken more than ten words all up since he woke up seven days ago. Itachi - who is slowly but surely working on seeping into the Sirius-skin - honestly thought his brother will remain mute for months to come. Which would have been perfectly acceptable.

 

“I understand.” He replies after a beat.

 

“You don’t, though.”

 

The piercing insight nudges something painful in him, some wound that never really closed.

 

“I - I don’t know.” Not the best answer, but it’s the only one he’s got.

 

Regulus hums, an oddly hollow tone, eyes still trained at the disturbed soils marked with a clumsily carved stone marker. “It’s okay. It’s brave to fight. You’ve always been the brave one.”

 

“I don’t think that’s true.” Itachi is pretty hollow himself. “I think I’m just - I’ve learned wrong things, and learned them too well. Violence is often the first solution I think of. I don’t think that’s brave.”

 

His thoughts are odd, choppy things, beginnings of a concept here, a rejoinder there. It’s hard to force them into anything resembling sense. “I think it’s braver not to fight. Not to kill. Smarter too.”

 

They’re quiet for - some time. Kreacher’s magic keeps them warm, and out of sight. They’re not home, for once, and it’s been almost a month since the Altercation, and they have managed to avoid so much as a glimpse of either adult. Arcturus sends bi-weekly letters, delivered by Finn, his personal elf. So far, nobody suggested any outings to Gringotts, not until Regulus regains some strength.

 

“I’m glad, though.” Regulus’s voice is raspy, unused, but the boy soldiers on. “I am glad you can fight. That’s - there’s a word for that. When you say you don’t like something but like it when it benefits you.”

 

“Hypocrite is the word.” Replies Itachi. “I don’t think it applies here. I don’t, honestly, know. That topic is - difficult. For me.”

 

“Yeah.” If this is how disturbing it is to hear cynicism out of a seven-year-old, how grotesque had it been when Itachi was three.

 

Fed up with this pointless tragedy, he wraps an arm around Regulus and yanks him into a half-hug. He won’t tear him away from grieving, because that’s not his right. But he will damn well provide some support. “I’m sorry I can’t help you with this.”

 

“Likewise.”

 


 

 

Chapter Text

While it will never be the same - which Sirius knows - Regulus does bounce back. He never shrieks with laughter, never wants to play with conjurations and shuts down into an eerie little automaton if dogs are so much as mentioned, but he recovers.

 

A good thing, without a doubt, since it is time for the two Black children are going to Gringotts.

 

Regulus is, well, what passes for thrilled for him these days. Lightly enthused, would be the outward appearance.

 

Kreacher dressed them in matching robes, which did wonders to cheer Regulus up, but there is not much that will keep Sirius from being an anxious wreck. He knows Arcturus wants to keep Sirius alive - up to a certain point - but he expressed no such sentiment for Regulus. In fact, the world seems to be strangely ignorant of Regulus’s existence.

 

Alright, enough of that. That road lay nervous breakdowns.

 

“Are you fretting, Siri?” Smiles Regulus.

 

“Terribly.” He sighs. “Grandfather will love you, I am certain of it, and Grandmother Melania is a Macmillan by birth - they’re a soft bunch, from what I’d gathered. I just -”

 

“I know.” His little brother pats him on the back as far as he can reach, the strangely adult gesture for once looking closer to adorable than disturbing. “We will be fine. We will both behave, be perfect pureblood princes and have two vaults to show for it. Easy.”

 

Sirius musters a smile, that he knows looks as hollow as it feels.

 

“As you say, little star.”

 

 


 

 

The introductions go by without a hitch, and Sirius loses about five per cent of his manic paranoia. Regulus is an angel, of course. He’s honed his acting into a very efficient weapon, and he plays his role perfectly - a mix between an innocent baby-eyed fawn and a snooty, entitled prince.

 

Melania buys it wholesale, while Arcturus is not fooled for so much as a heartbeat. Since Sirius watches the man like a hawk, he notices the cloud of grief that passes over him, when he looks at Regulus. Which, yeah, is fair, considering how practised his brother had to become at playing adults, and it still wasn’t enough to save him from torture.

 

“You two will do House Black proud,” he murmurs in the end, half a prayer, half a command.

 

Arcturus is entirely too late to have any say in what they do with the House of Black, once they hold the reins, as far as Sirius is concerned. He doesn’t resent the man specifically, but he certainly doesn’t owe him anything.

 

 


 

 

The goblins are an - odd species, he thinks. To his eye, they’re more akin to Summoning animals, than any purely physical species. Which, considering they are fae, is not at all surprising. Not that there is any concrete information to be found abut the fae - or practically anything else. For all that this world has a much more open approach to disseminating knowledge, the wishy-washy nature of the texts is ridiculous. Although that could be the Black library - or the nature of magic. Perhaps all texts about magic need to be silly and vague.

 

Sirius wonders at himself for a long moment. It’s not like him to be so - incurious. He’s been living in this world for over nine years, and yet he never even attempted to learn more about it. He knows the basics about the hierarchical structure, which considering the source, can be counted as trite propaganda for the most part. He hasn’t tried to access a more reliable source of information - he hasn’t so much as stepped outside of his house.

 

And, honestly, he doesn’t really care. His brother is his first and only priority. Until now he was too young to learn about the world, and now they can learn together.

 

Soon, the Lord and Lady Black step outside of the office of their account manager - the account manager of the House of Black. The two brothers stand from the - rather uncomfortable - stone bench and bow to them.

 

“Ugnok will see you now. First together, and then separately.” Arcturus is - not angry, but perhaps exasperated. It’s clear he looks down on the creatures, which to Sirius seems to be a particularly self-defeating prejudice.

 

“Merry part.” Murmurs Sirius, closely echoed by Regulus.

 

“Kreacher will bring you to us when you are finished. Merry part.”

 

 


 

 

The door opens automatically - not by magic, interestingly, but mechanically. Some sort of weight sensors, perhaps?

 

Without any literature on the Goblin culture, he settles for a simple “Merry meet,” and a short bow of indeterminate depth.

 

The Goblin sitting at the desk is entirely inscrutable - not that he’d be able to read their expressions either way, what with their entirely alien physiology.

 

“Merry meet, Heir Black, Mr Black.” Replies Ugnok in a wonderfully grating, gravelly voice. “I admit I was not expecting you for years yet.”

 

Hmm - should he trust the creature’s discretion? More to the point, how much does he care about keeping their situation a secret?

 

Not at all.

 

Regulus might. He casts an uncertain look at his brother who gazes back serenely, and supremely unconcerned.

 

Alright, let’s just wing it.

 

“Our parents have proven themselves to be - problematic. Grandfather thought it wise to ensure a degree of financial independence.”

 

The Goblin hums but doesn’t comment further. Thick stacks of parchment are readied on the desk, and he reaches for one.

 

“The process of granting minors any level of independent control is neither simple nor quick. There are precedents for Noble Heirs to have vaults set aside, which they cannot access. For children as young as you - we have to be creative. Lord Black has several law-wizards in his employ. After we set up the initial paperwork here, you will come back for several meetings with a solicitor and a bank representative. After that, Gringotts would recommend you switch to a barrister, and argue your case before the Wizengamot.”

 

That sounds - complicated.

 

“Hypothetically,” he says carefully. “What would stop us from simply stashing several bags of Galleons of undisclosed size in appropriately discrete locations?”

 

“Interesting question.” Says the Goblin. His tone picks up slightly from the disinterested drone to a slightly more animated cadence. “The money wouldn’t be yours, for one. Wizarding Law is - patchy. As things stand, minors aren’t legally permitted to own property or monies. Exceptions are made for traditions like schooling, informally referred to as Hogwarts-vaults, and of course a wide variety of vaults set aside for a particular purpose - such as dowries, bride-prices, weddings, funerals and so forth.”

 

An interesting bit of trivia, and not one that holds much sway. Sirius doesn’t put that much stock in laws, to be perfectly frank, especially since from what he’s read between the lines, the Purebloods do pretty much whatever they want without much consequence.

 

“More important to you, perhaps, is the fact that paying with Galleons won’t take you very far, especially if someone - for the sake of argument, let’s say, Orion or Walburga Black - spread the word that you’re handling stolen funds. Lord Black might be referring to you as his Heir - which you might very well be sooner rather than later - but as things stand, Orion Black is legally the Heir to Ancient and Noble House of Black. Only disreputable dealers would be willing to work with you, which I wouldn’t recommend - at least not until you’re older and more established.”

 

Now that is good thinking.

 

“But having our own vaults would somehow - negate the assumption, I assume?”

 

“Entirely.” Nods Ugnok. “There are several payment options available to our more - affluent - clients. Only very rarely do members of the Sacred Twenty-Eight carry their gold on their persons. Those clients are issued a cheque-book, each cheque being signed by magical signature. There could be no thought of you paying with illegal funds if you use a cheque. The gold is transferred automatically from your vault to another.”

 

“Fascinating.” Breathes Regulus.

 

Sirius cuts a fond look to his brother. He’s never thought himself to be especially intellectually lazy, but he’s nothing compared to his little star who wants to know everything in the entire world.

 

Even the Goblin looks pleasantly surprised. “Indeed.”

 

Sirius throws an arm over Regulus, not at all concerned with the familial gesture. The Goblin won’t care, and he doesn’t want Regulus to think physical affection from his family is something to be ashamed over.

 

“I see why it would be best to do things officially.” He says. “Do we have any other options?”

 

“You could report Orion and Walburga Black to the Ministry, and try to declare them unfit guardians.” Replies Ugnok, a deep well of cynical amusement saturating the gravelly sounds. “Which I personally would not recommend.”

 

A huff of humourless laughter escapes Sirius.

 

“Or you could file for emancipation.” Tacks on Ugnok. “The Ministry will strike it down before it reaches the Wizgamont, I will stake my axe on it. Nobody will emancipate a child younger than fifteen, no matter how wealthy or intelligent.”

 

Yeah, fair enough.

 

“Then, it seems there’s only the one way,” Hums Sirius. “Let’s get to it.”

 

“Indeed.” Replies the Goblin, with a touch of what is perhaps amusement curling his lips.

 

“One question, if I may?” Says Regulus quietly. He’s always quiet, now.

 

“Of course, young master Black.” Ugnok has - as most adult sentient beings - developed something of a liking for his little brother, it seems. The rasping, rolling quality of his voice doesn’t smooth out, but it gentles slightly.

 

“Can I name Siri as the second owner of my vault? I mean Sirius. Can I officially grant him access and full rights?”

 

Sirius blinks for a long moment until the strong urge to smack himself goes away.

 

“Indeed, can the same be done for my vault, with Regulus in mind?”

 

The Goblin looks to be ever so slightly charmed by Regulus, but much more annoyed at the extra complications.

 

“Why not just the one vault, then?”

 

Sirius shrugs, enjoying the freedom to use the gesture without censure. “What possible reason do we have to not have a fail-safe?”

 

Ugnok growls something in Goblin-tongue - that Sirius will not call Gobbledegook unless a real Goblin confirms it’s the official title and not just a bigoted slur - before nodding in disgust. “Why, not, I suppose. You will be writing new precedent, or are attempting to in any case. This additional clause won’t make that much of a difference overall.”

 

“Thank you, Master Ugnok.” Chirps Regulus with a practised smile.

 

“You’re welcome.” Says the Goblin, displaying every one of wickedly sharp teeth in what is definitely not a smile. “Now if you would turn your attention to the first of many stacks of parchment, there is a chance we get through them before lunch.”

 

 


 

 

They don’t make it in time for lunch, but after a quick glance at both of their scrawny necks and wrists, the Goblin snarls at them and ushers them into a side-room. Two trays overflowing with food - barbecue - and a pitcher of water is set in front of them. Ugnok’s glare dares them to make anything of it. “We reconvene in an hour.” He hisses and storms off.

 

“I didn’t expect Goblins to be this nice.” Muses Regulus. The excitement and novelty of the day had awakened some of his slumbering appetite, and he attacks his pile of steaming meat with great enthusiasm.

 

“Neither did I.” He nods, also occupied by his meal, if with less childish glee. “Then again, they probably didn’t expect Pureblood children to be anything other than arrogant, spoiled monsters. He could be trying to condition us, I suppose. Reward good behaviour, in hopes of a repeat occurrence, that sort of thing.”

 

Regulus snorts. The juice from the rib he’s gnawing flows down his face. If Walburga could see them now. “I don’t know if I’m looking forward to my Presentation if that’s the case. I was curious about other Noble children, but if they’re all like that - well.”

 

Not for the first time, Sirius wonders as to the absurd lack of socialization afforded to the children of Noble Houses. Regulus has never to date seen a child other than Sirius, much less interacted with one. How, exactly, anyone expects either of them to turn out even passably sane, is anyone’s guess.

 

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that.” He says, remembering the excitement from his own Presentation. “You likely won’t be let near any children just yet. My Presentation consisted mostly of presenting me to various other Lords and Nobles. My presence was more proof of life than anything else.”

 

Regulus gestures for him to continue, waving the bone in his hand, little drops of fat and juice flying through the air.

 

Sirius quirks a smile at the adorable chipmunk-cheeks. “Your presentation will, Goddess-willing, be a less pompous affair. I already invited Heir Longbottom, who you will love, I think. With Orion and Walburga being - as they are - Grandfather is likely going to be in charge of organizing it. Or Grandmother, really. Most of the guests cannot be avoided - all allies of the House of Black will be there, as will the Vassal Houses. Other than that - and House of Longbottom - I think you’ll be set.”

 

Not even the breadcrumb of Itachi inviting the Heir of a notoriously Light House is enough to distract Regulus from the morose topic of their immediate family. On one hand, Sirius would happily ignore the topic until the end of days, but it’s not healthy for Regulus. He won’t allow his brother to be any more traumatized by them than he already is. However, there are some topics that are simply not appropriate for mealtimes.

 

“Never mind them, now.” He quips, his dismissiveness casually overdone. “They don’t matter. Your Presentation also doesn’t matter. It’s all posturing of one sort or another. But we two, we don’t need to posture. We know we’re stronger than that. Better than that.”

 

Regulus blinks. Blinks again. Tilts his head. “Yeah, okay. They don’t really matter. You, me and Kreacher, we don’t need anyone else.”

 

“Exactly.” Look at that, his little foray into motivational speaking paid off. Who would’ve thought it?

 

 


 

 

The teleportation-via-elf is even more nauseating with two people. An interesting question comes into being. Kreacher is ignored in Gringotts - utterly and completely. The only possible reason is that both species fall under the umbrella of ‘fae’, and yet they live such dramatically different lives. One is enslaved and comprehensively brainwashed by humans, one is in an uneasy symbiotic relationship with them. It could be resentment that leads the Goblins to ignore Kreacher. It could also be mourning.

 

There is nothing Sirius can do about it - just yet - so he puts it out of his mind. There is a serious bit of work ahead of them, and so far he hadn’t even discussed it with Lord and Lady Black.

 

“Merry meet, Lord Black.” The two brothers bow and speak the greeting in unison - not entirely staged, but some, perhaps.

 

“Merry meet, children.” Huffs Arcturus, a small hidden smile playing about his lips. “I take it your talk with the Goblins was successful?”

 

Well - perhaps?

 

“In a matter of speaking.” He settles on. “The account manager informed us of the difficulties we would face if we didn’t have vaults in our name. However, our youth makes the matter - complicated.”

 

“Oh?” Asks Arcturus, leaning forward slightly. His chair is a resplendent thing, thick and wide and likely very comfortable. It stands next to a traditional fire-place, with several cats swanning about. More and more, these little corners of the Castle keep popping up, nooks built for comfort and care. Built for those days when you want to squeeze whatever relief you can get from your environment, to compensate for everything else.

 

The two brothers make themselves tuck themselves onto a settee of their own, a two-person sofa that could fit six of them, much less two. It’s just as soft as he thought it would be, and after a long day of sitting on hard stone, Sirius can track the warmth seeping into his bones. God, he sounds like an old man even inside his own mind. 

 

“Since minors aren’t legally permitted to own neither money nor property, we will need to go via the Ministry - or the Wizengamot, rather.”

 

“Oh, is that all?” Arcturus scoffs. “Not to worry, boys. The Wizgamont won’t refuse me something as trivial as ensuring my grandsons have independent finances.”

 

A ripple of fondness for the snobby old man swishes through Sirius. He does not expect much from the Black family, but he’s glad there is at least one family member to count on to be reasonable. For all his prejudices, the man is no Walburga. He cares at least superficially for the wellbeing of the people in his family, and not just the abstract idea of the House.

 

“The account manager suggested your law-wizards could take up the matter from here. Regulus and I completed the paperwork required, and now the rest is best left to the professionals.”

 

Arcturus nods absently, visibly organizing his thoughts. “I agree. You have better things to do than waste time with solicitors and Ministry rejects.”

 

Perfect segue, thank you, Lord Black. “Indeed. In fact, I would humbly request Regulus and myself be granted access to the libraries here at Castle Black. The library at our residence is - ah - highly specialized.”

 

Arcturus shoots him a knowing look. “I imagine so. What say your tutors? Don’t they provide materials?”

 

“Our tutors concern themselves with - other things. Calligraphy, eloquence, body-language, histories and such. We would both benefit, I think from learning about our world in a slightly more - comprehensive manner.”

 

Arcturus looks at them for a long minute, seemingly confused by something. “You are, of course, welcome in Castle Black, Sirius. Regulus, well, would have to remain nominally hidden. It’s not strictly speaking proper for him to be out and about before his Presentation.”

 

“Naturally, we will remain discrete.” It’s not at all about the truth of it, that much is clear. As long as Arcturus can officially claim his unPresented grandson is safe in his parents’ care, nobody truly cares that two dark-haired grey-eyed children are running about. Polite fictions are the backbone of any traditional society. Not that, in all honesty, they plan to be running about much.

 

“Very well.” Declares Lord Black. “I have sent firm instructions to your parents that you are under my direct protection. Normally, the communication between a Lord and his Heir is kept strictly private, however, things being as they are - well. I thought it the terms are known to all parties involved.” Meaning, he thought their parents would count on the two of them being kept in the dark and would use their ignorance to their advantage.

 

“Your Kreacher will remove you from any dangerous situations, of course. I expect you to nevertheless visit Castle Black at least once every week. Your parents are, at this time, not welcome, so your Kreacher will transport you.” Proof of life, and a chance to tell the truth without direct coercion. It’s getting increasingly difficult to dislike Arcturus. He’s doing a lot to protect them, all the while giving them all the independence they want. A true ally if ever there was one.

 

“Thank you, Grandfather.” It’s Regulus who speaks since Sirius is still very much digesting the information.

 

A bitter little smile ages the Lord, and he looks older than his comfortable middle-age. “Think nothing of it, child. Children of the House of Black deserve nothing but the best.”

 

In that, they are in agreement. While Sirius thinks of himself as a Black only tangentially, Regulus is pure Black. And he very much deserves the best.

 

 

 


 

Chapter Text

Sirius knows very well how quickly one’s life can change beyond recognition. But it’s hard to imagine a stranger life than this one.

 

From a stifling, careful aristocratic slug through life, their days became something straight out of an adventure book for young children. Two young boys, left to live with next to no supervision, with limitless funds. Their fortress - the three rooms declared by Grandfather to be theirs and theirs alone - is furnished and supplied with whatever tickled their fancy that day. Grandfather’s solicitors tore through the Ministry, taking no quarter, and secured their vaults about six weeks after the initial Gringotts meeting. With vaults filled with enough gold to last them to old age, whims are indulged in the extreme. Regulus wants an instrument? Work of a few moments to acquire one. Sirius reads an interesting treatise on potions? Kreacher brings him a gold cauldron and all the ingredients he could need.

 

They eat what they want, wear what they want, sleep when they want and for however long they want. Kreacher is there, of course, but the old elf is still getting his sea-legs in this new journey of freedom and autonomy. While he’s nominally Sirius’s, both him and Regulus have, after a week of deliberation, crafted and swore the most ironclad phrasing of a Wizard’s Vow they could think up. Considering how morbidly paranoid both of them are, the vow was quite something and took a bit of time to say. Neither of them is capable of taking advantage of the elf, can’t command him or abuse him, or take advantage of their bond in any way.

 

It was an emotional week.

 

Shortly after that, admittedly still slightly shook by the sheer emotionality and the physical lightness due to a lighter conscience, Sirius decided it’s time. Years ago he swore, promised to God and Devil and whoever else might be listening, to never keep secrets from his brother. He’s kept quiet for long enough, but Regulus is now more than mature enough to know the truth.

 

It’s - another emotional week. He forces the whole sordid tale out, breathes out the pain and the insanity and the hopelessness of it all. Regulus doesn’t, in truth, understand. He’s filled with the righteous fury of a young brother whose older brother has been wronged. Kreacher, though, Kreacher understands. The loyal elf knows well what it’s like to give your heart and service to another and be spat on for it, time and again. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed. Kreacher is easily the most distraught from the three of them, followed closely by Sirius. Regulus - well, he is eight. He empathizes with Sirius as much as he can, but doings of a previous life, of a different people, they’re too abstract for him. He doesn’t understand hate, doesn’t really understand fear. More than anything, he doesn’t understand betrayal. For all that books speak about instinctual parental connections, Regulus saw their parents perhaps twenty times in memory. He wasn’t betrayed by Orion, any more than he would be if a tutor attacked him.

 

Time helps. Sirius is excellent at burying unpleasant truths, and Kreacher is, obviously, phenomenal at it. He wouldn’t have survived the however many hundreds of years he did, otherwise. His previous life isn’t mentioned. Regulus would sometimes ask an abstract question of the culture, the history or the science, but they stay far, far away from anything concrete.

 

They visit Grandfather - who is a grandfather, now. With frequent visits - at least four or five times a week for an hour or two - they’ve built a cordial relationship. It’s not, strictly speaking, the healthiest dynamic in the world. Arcturus sees them as a cross between friendly acquaintances and something of an investment. Neither Sirius nor Regulus are offended by it. From the available evidence, it’s all too likely this is as close to real affection as the man is capable of.

 

Their parents, however, are nowhere in evidence. Well - that’s not strictly speaking true. Walburga isn’t in evidence. Orion has started cursing the house, in some wormish attempt at disposing of them without direct involvement. If Sirius wasn’t who he was, they very well might have been harmed by the bizarre sabotage. Alas for Orion, a cursed object or six has no hope in getting an S-ranked Jonin, puny civilian body or not.

 

They haven’t come to an accord to how they should handle the situation. Sirius thinks they should leave it alone. Regulus - again - doesn’t really understand their situation. Kreacher is still reeling and struggles to form independent opinions on anything. Since between Sirius and Kreacher, they can handle most anything their father thinks to throw at them, they let it be. Well - they do engage in a little sabotage of their own. Petty, childish things for the most part, but it makes Regulus happy, and even Kreacher takes a little joy in the retribution, no matter how puny in comparison to what it should be. It’s not like they could do much, even if they wanted to. Itachi’s magic is still too - physical - to lend itself to real sabotage. Ever since that Evening, he can more or less mimic Chakra in bursts - walk up and down walls, jump higher, move faster. Which would be all sorts of useful if the simplest action didn’t exhaust him to the point of unconsciousness.

 

If he had better control of his magic, Regulus could do it, perhaps. His brother wasn’t born as pre-made as Sirius has. His mind has no problem imagining wacky concepts such as invisible items or disappearing stairs. Unfortunately, intelligent or not, his mind is still unfocused. His imagination is strong, but he’s not used to imposing his will upon the world.

 

Between the two of them, they manage some simple traps. A trip-wire on the staircase. A contact poison spread on every surface in the dining room. That sort of thing. Again, childish shit, but it helped Regulus express some of his displeasure which is enough for Sirius.

 

Mostly, though, the three of them live an odd, odd life. The tutors disappear, naturally, and Sirius takes over their education for the most part. Grandfather objects nominally, but he’s just as aware as Sirius is, that this rift in the family is best kept quiet as long as possible. Judging Sirius to be more than capable enough to instruct Regulus in the necessities, he settles for organizing some lessons at Castle Black and leaves them be. They both attend their etiquette lessons with good grace, and their French and German tutors sing their praises.

 

In deference to Grandfather’s wishes - and Sirius’s paranoia - they haven’t set foot in Wizarding spaces. Kreacher was infamously a Black elf and could purchase most anything they could want or need. That he paid with their vaults was thought of as a Black eccentricity more than anything else. These Blacks, the whispers went. So rich even their children have vaults overflowing with Gold. Which - not untrue.

 

Since Sirius feels zero need to socialize with anyone not his brother, Kreacher or Grandfather, and Regulus is a nerd at heart, even under the circumstances, they lead a tame if extravagant, life. They’re both happy to dive into the scholarly subjects and leave the messy matter of people and culture to the side. Potions, transfigurations, charms, astronomy, alchemy - the world is resplendent with gripping topics, each one more fantastical than the last. Regulus has all the hallmarks of a born scholar, while Itachi concerns himself with more practical subjects. Healing, for example, is fascinating, but so are potion-bombs. It’s runes, though that fascinate him most. More specifically - Wizard-space.

 

He can feel the first tingles of an obsession, there. The field of creating Wizard-space is - stupendously big and abstract. Like any Jōnin worth their blood, Itachi had been competent in basic Fūinjutsu, before. He could have, perhaps, developed it further had he not been clinically insane. As things were, he had mastered a simple storage scroll, and a rudimentary alarm ward and not much else.

 

These Wizards outstripped even the Uzumaki, with some of the things they have bent space with magic. A specialist could create entire houses out of Wizard’s space. Where the limit is - nobody knows. The consensus is that it depends. Fuck, but he despises that term. It depends, the books say, on the caster’s magical power, and their grasp of arithmancy, runes and enchanting.

 

He tries his best to set aside how cuckoo the whole thing was, how mind-bogglingly impossible it has to be. It - partly works. He believes it’s possible, because Kreacher bought to date seven magically expanded bags, of different price, and thus volume.

 

Real expert knowledge is, predictably, impossible to get to. Such information remained in the families and shops of the craftspeople who made them. But the books all agree on some things: One, you need a mastery in Runes and Warding to even think of working in the field. Two, it was a rich man's game. Wizards and witches may be comfortable with using magic in their architecture freely (which, okay) but Wizard’s space was a luxury not many thought they needed. Which, again - what?

 

He has long since stopped paying attention to the illogical tendencies of the Wizarding World, but this is a lot even for him. To use transfiguration and charms to build your houses - both of which stop at some point - was reckless, but it fit more or less in his model of the human mind. The fact that they haven’t been developing Wizard-space with everything they had, it kills him. Why - why hide among muggles, if you could build, fuck, hidden houses, gardens, city blocks - who knows what? A Castle? A village?

 

One thing is clear if nothing else. Sirius has found his calling. Runes and Warding all the way sprinkled liberally with Arithmancy. And combat training, of course. Potions remain the most useful of the Hogwarts-classes he can find. Charms - perhaps - in that shields and wandless, wordless magic had its uses. But fighting someone in a civilized, polite manner, casting curses at each other like children - it doesn’t appeal. If Sirius wants to fight someone, he will be armed with the strongest shields, a bubble-headed charm, heavy-duty body-armour, and armed with a slew of potions of varying lethality. Even then the first and only plan is to distract, dart forward, and start snapping bones before things escalate. Curses are serious business - one hit and you’re out, for the most part. No, no ‘Wizard duels’ for him, not unless he wants to duel as a sport.

 

And of course, less said about Transfiguration the better. The less Itachi can have to do with the maddening discipline, the better.

 

 


 

 

Neither of the Black brothers really got into the habit of birthdays. When they were smaller, Kreacher did his best, with impressive magical displays injecting some whimsy into their lives. After Sirius’s doomed Presentation, the already strained tradition atrophied entirely.

 

Which is why there is no resentment or thwarted expectation when Regulus’s ninth birthday is coopted by the spectacle of his Presentation. Grandfather - having had over a year to prepare excuses beforehand - sent Orion and Walburga to see about the Black properties in the Americas some months before. As polite fictions go, this one was just about as paper-thin as you can get, but it served the purpose. The Society knew the event will be organized and hosted by the Lord and Lady Black, once again at Castle Black.

 

Honestly, Itachi wouldn’t dare ask it of Grandfather. It wasn’t terribly inappropriate, but it was a long step out of the norm. To have the Presentation of your ‘spare’ be as grand as that of the ‘heir’ - and not even the official Heir - signalled some confusing things to the masses. Almost as if the Lord valued both Black children equally, Goddess forbid.

 

Whatever the case may be, Lord Black offered - his way of showing support of Regulus, his unquestioned favourite out of all the Black children. The list of guests was markedly tamer, settling for inviting only the locals and abstaining from French gentry and Russian aristocracy. Which - honestly - made Sirius a little disappointed. He didn’t get the chance to speak to any foreigners last time, since he was mostly held together by rage and fear. However, a quieter event is not without its advantages.

 

There was no getting around inviting all the Sacred twenty-eight, but they could leave out the Vassal houses. With Sirius’s urging, Regulus instead organized generous gifts to be delivered to all the Vassal houses, to celebrate his birthday. If Blacks were any less upper-class, they wouldn't escape being judged gauche for this eccentricity. In their case, they likely started a new trend. It also made Regulus happy, and he spent days planning thoughtful gifts to the dozens upon dozens of Vassal families living on Black land.

 

Politeness dictated an heir addresses the invitation to another heir, and so forth. Since Lord Arcturus Black sent out the invitations, they went directly to the Lord.

 

If there wasn’t so much hubbub about the Black children, their prodigious nature and strange circumstance surrounding them, not a single Lord or Lady would have been likely to attend, never mind who sent the invitations. But Regulus was a point of some curiosity. For some reason, Orion and Walburga Black did not send out the usual informal notices that subtly indicated another child was born into the Black family. The tutors spread the word some, and of course, the fact the ‘spare’ Black had a vault to his name at the age of seven sent echoes through Wizarding Britain. With all that in mind, it is not that odd that Lord Black got notice after notice that almost every available Lord or Lady invited would attend personally, or at least send their Heir.

 

Both bothers were banished from Castle Black a week before the Presentation was due, to avoid spoiling the surprise. While it will be slightly less imposing, most of the important Purebloods will still be present. The preparations were going to take some doing. Especially, and this is where Sirius and Arcturus were in absolute agreement - in the matters of security. Having so many witches and wizards arriving and leaving means Arcturus would have to lower the Wards - which is unacceptable - or modify them, which was neither cheap nor easy. Gringotts were the only ward-masters the Blacks would trust to do such things. Gringotts and other Blacks. Unfortunately, the current generation of Blacks doesn't have any living ward-masters. Which only left the Goblins.

 

Sirius and Regulus spent the week relaxing, not too stressed about the event. Other than practising Regulus’s Walk Of Pretension, they didn’t have much to do. The only important thing - Lord Riddle - Regulus was already fully briefed on, and Sirius only hoped the boy would manage to curb his incessant curiosity enough to do the wise thing and stay away from the man within reason. (His brother took the news that Sirius was impressed and intimidated by the man with the good-sense the Goddess gave lichen and decided the man must be fascinating and Regulus must become his friend.)

 

Once the day of arrived, Sirius and Regulus surrender to Kreacher with good grace. The elf still isn't clear on his own personality, but he was confident in his knowledge of what a Proper Pureblood Prince looks like.

 

Regulus and Kreacher make A Whole Thing out of it. Regulus is draped in traditional white, while Sirius wears pitch-black. Kreacher and Regulus conspired about the outfits, he’s sure. They both know English Wizarding fashions more or less. Sirius more than Regulus. While Regulus is a child, still, with tastes to match, Sirius once was an adult - if the mindless automaton that walked the Elemental Nations could be called such. Either way - Itachi and Sirius added together made a mature mind more or less. And he’s come to understand that his snobbery has grown with him. Case in point - he wears only the finest materials. And when it comes to fine fabrics, the wizarding world can produce wondrous things. They spin silk from the thread of giant spiders, use dragon hide for boots (which is just - bizarre for many reasons). Magic propelled textile-makers into incredible heights millennia ago. Ona part of it was automation - designing a spell was a complicated working, but once completed, it was possible to automate large swathes of the process. The other part of it was the precision - spinning, for example, is where magic shone. A highly specialized charm can spin an impossibly fine thread - or an impossibly intricate thread - without a single mistake. 

 

In any case, both brothers wear robes that are unmistakably Wizarding design, but twisted daringly with Elemental Nations fashion - Uchiha fashion, to be more precise. It’s - it’s meant well. It’s even humorous in a way - to wear white to a party - your own birthday party. If they stayed true to Wizarding fashion, they would have avoided the morbid implications. With all that in mind, the outfit is still not without its charms

 

Itachi’s robes are much tamer. They’re unmistakably Pureblood fashion, but wouldn’t look out of place in the Daimyo court, either. The sleeves, for one, were noticeably wider and stopped just short of the wrist. Instead of the traditional closed robe, they both wore it open, displaying the elegant shirts tucked into the trousers. Trousers were both higher waisted and wider than was the norm, starting from slightly above their belly-buttons and falling to their ankles.

 

A lot of what he has come to understand about fashion boiled more or less down to deploying how rich one is. Regulus cannot deviate from tradition in this case - he must wear pure white, without jewellery, elaborate hairstyles or anything that would be considered gauche. Purity and elegance was the theme. So they took the same route they did with Sirius, only slightly more - exotic. Kreacher scoured the world and came back with a bolt of fabric from Egypt, priceless enough that only their high-priests wore it. The cloth is so chock-full of magic it glowed subtly. The threads themselves were common spun-linen, but the weave was a secret known only to the Egyptians. Once spun, each piece underwent a ritual, that took a year to complete - an entire rotation of the sun. Neither Sirius nor Regulus had the funds for it, vaults or no, but Lord Black was happy enough to splurge. House of Black had significant holdings in Egypt, after all, so they had both the means and the connections to get their paws on the priceless fabric.

 

As for Sirius, his clothing was minimalistic in design, and he was content with a combination of Acromantula-silk for the outer-robe and soft linen for the rest. To compensate, he consented to a piece of jewellery. A platinum choker, inlaid with soft velvet, was fitted to his body to follow the line of his neck and shoulders perfectly. The neck-piece dipped in the back slightly to cover the vulnerable nape, extending almost to the middle of his shoulder-blades. It cost a fortune to make, and even more to hold all the charms it had. But it is armour that doubles as jewellery - it will make it much easier to bow.

 

Kreacher will remain in the shadows, which would be more aggravating if it wasn’t what the elf wanted to do. Free or not, the elf had little use for a bunch of Wizards who see his kind as little more than vermin.

 

Primped and ready, they made for a striking image, he has to admit. White is jarring, admittedly, but they are a rather morbid bunch. Kreacher bought a camera just for this purpose, and happily snapped a photograph of the two boys standing in front of the fire-place.

 

 


 

Chapter Text

Grandfather picks them up. The new security only allows people through via specific portkey (another wizarding invention Sirius will learn how to make if it kills him). The Wards are charged as far as they go - which is enough to stop a rampaging Bijū, considering how old and intricate those Blood-wards were. All in all, other than the one-way timed portrays, nobody is going in or out of Castle Black other than Lord and Lady Black.

 

It amused Sirius endlessly. Honestly, it felt like Grandfather’s approach to security was concerned more with solving a potential crime, than preventing it. Then again, considering the people he calls allies, he could be forgiven. If Lord Riddle, say, wants to commit a crime, he will do so. The most they could hope for is to make it inconvenient enough for him that he decides it’s not worth it. 

 

“We-ell,” Says Arcturus upon seeing the two Black brothers. “As statements go, I cannot say the two of you do not impress. What exactly is it you are trying to say is unclear, but it will be memorable. ” He leans forward, taking in the exquisite lines of Regulus’s robes. “And possibly start a new trend.”

 

“Thank you, Grandfather.” Says Regulus. His smile is crooked, unpracticed, all the more treasured for it.

 

“Your Grandmother will be pleased.” Declares Arcturus, and both Black brothers take it as a badge of honour it is. “Now, we will be portkeying at the door to the ballroom, where Melania is waiting for us. Regulus will walk in first, yes Sirius, you will be not more than a half-step behind him. Melania and I will follow you.”

 

“Yes, Lord Black.” Nods Sirius.

 

“Excellent.”

 


 

“Lady Hectate, you two are a vision,” Exclaims Lady Black. “Regulus, dear, your robes are - marvellous, and Sirius, that neck-piece is splendid too. A bit severe, perhaps, but it works for you. ”

 

“Thank-you, Lady Black,” they reply in unison. They have been practising speaking in unison on and off for a year now, which both of their Grandparents are well-aware of.

 

“Oh, not this again. You will behave, children. The last Presentation was - what it was. This time you will not put so much as a toe out of line.”

 

“Yes, Grandmother.” Smiles Regulus.

 


 

He and Regulus have worked extensively on developing his posture and gait. Melania helped far more. And yet - Regulus is nine. Nine and kept away from people for most of his life. He doesn’t trip, thank the Gods, but his steps are jerky, and Sirius can see his hand shaking minutely.

 

Itachi's magic is entirely too volatile and inherently violent to offer any comfort. They’re both the centre of attention, as they walk down the stairs. Every flaw is noted, analyzed and remembered. The jackals have taken note of his brother’s nerves, and find him less worthy for it.

 

After cataloguing who the imbeciles are, he makes it a point to ignore them all. Anyone who would pass judgement of an under-socialized child is no friend of his. Not strictly speaking an enemy yet, but making a good go at it.

 

He sweeps his eyes over the crowd discreetly.

 

The Longbottom matriarch is there, as is her son. Her son who is waving at him at this very moment, picture-perfect dumb smile firmly in place.

 

The guests have grouped themselves by the political leanings quite handily - Dark and Light at the opposite sides of the hall, with the Neutrals acting as a buffer.

 

The Dark Families are furthest away from him, so other than Lord Riddle, he can't make them out. It is never a difficult task to pick out Lord Riddle in a crowd, not with him standing a head taller than his fellows. Then, of course, there is the matter of his extraordinarily dense magic. No, he thinks with a healthy dose of respect, whatever one may think about Lord Riddle, he is memorable.

 

If he was introduced to the Neutrals, he can’t recall. The faces are vaguely familiar, but then again all English Purebloods look more or less the same. He recalled some of them were dangerous, and thus interesting, but other than that - nothing.

 

The Light is more notable - and not just because Light magic made his hiss. For one, there are the Longbottoms, which are always striking. Augusta Longbottom is about half her son’s height, but the diminutive witch towers over everyone by sheer disagreeableness. Lady Prewett is there too, by some unfathomable reason, as is recently widowed Lady Shacklebolt.

 

All in all, a heap of Lords, and nary a single commoner. Without the minor houses and vassal houses to bolster their numbers, the guest list boils down to the essentials. And in this company, it’s not very safe to let the volatile elements mix freely. Unless Arcturus has something planned, Sirius hopes that they will be home and in bed before the duels start.

 

They’ve finally reached the end of the staircase, and Arcturus whispers behind them.

“As discussed. We go from Light to Dark. Remember who you are, fear no-one and nothing. You’ve barely an equal in this room, and not a single superior. Here or anywhere.”

 

Regulus straightens his back, visibly mimicking Sirius’ posture. With half a glance to Arcturus, he moves closer to Regulus, remaining half a step behind him but close enough to give a little comfort.

 

Lady Longbottom is first. The Lady - tiny little grizzled bear of a witch - stares them down imperiously. Arcturus and Melania start up a conversation with another Lady, to give them an illusion of privacy - they want the Lonbottoms to like the heirs since the rest of them are a lost cause.

 

“Merry meet,” greets Regulus and sweeps a bow beyond reproach. Sirius echoes the greeting. The armour-necklace is a wonder - his instincts barely screech at all.

 

“Merry meet,” greets the Lady, nodding at them.

 

Her son is nowhere near as reserved. “Merry meet, Master Black,” he bows to Regulus. The brute is tall enough to be taller than both of them - all three of them - even when he bows.

 

“Merry meet, Sirius.” Another bow to him, but the greeting is chirped, sing-singed almost. Me-Ery Me-Eet, like a girl of three and not a highlander Noble Heir.

 

Regulus blinks at the pair of them, struck mute by the dragon-lady and her knight-son.

 

“Frank,” hums Sirius, swooping in to rescue his brother. It's not fair that his first introduction was to the second most inexplicable House in the Castle. “It’s a pleasure to see you. I was glad to hear House Longbottom accepted our invitation.”

 

Frank beams at him, showing every single one of his large white teeth. “I would have come to see Castle Black alone. You’re extra. And Regulus, of course, I had to come after your brother spoke of you so dearly. I dare say his words were not untruths.”

 

Sirius puffs up in pride, and Regulus just blinks, head slightly tilted back so that he can see the tall boy.

 

“Thank you,” Says Regulus, only barely stuttering. “I am also glad to meet you, Heir Longbottom. My brother spoke of you fondly as well.”

 

“Did he!” Exclaims Frank, and winks (!) at Sirius. “Well, I am flattered, my friend. When you join me at Hogwarts next year, I will be sure to introduce you to the friends I’ve mentioned you to.”

 

This boy. A helpless smile skitters up his throat and tilts his lips. Whatever game Frank is playing, he is difficult to resist. Charisma and unselfconscious joy practically envelop him like a cloud.

 

“Tell me, young master Black,” Snaps Lady Longbottom. “Where are your parents? Two sons and two Presentations, and not a hair is seen.”

 

Thank the Goddess, but the Lady chose one topic Regulus will not get flustered by.

 

“Our Father and Mother were regrettably prevented from attending. They are managing the Black Properties in North America at the moment.” His tone is cool, and face admirably blank, considering.

 

“It must be hard.” Says Lady Longbottom, eyes steely and unfeeling. “For children to be without their mother for so long.”

 

Regulus is nowhere near as good with controlling his expression as Sirius is yet, and the flash of disdain is visible. “Indeed, Lady Longbottom. Our mother’s absence is felt deeply. Please, call me Regulus, if you would. There are simply too many Blacks here for the appellation to make any practical sense.”

 

The Lady’s dark eyes scrutinize them both sharply. “Very well, young Regulus. Tell me, which subjects do you enjoy?”

 

Sirius relaxes fully, as a gleam of interest enters his little brother’s eyes, and he enters into a rapid-fire discussion with the Lady, all notions of shyness forgotten. Which was a kind thing for her to do, all things considered.

 

“It seems my Lady mother is as taken with your little brother as I am with you, Sirius.” Murmurs Frank under his breath. For once his voice is pitched so that it doesn't reach further than Sirius. He sends the giant a sharp glance, but the laughing dark eyes give nothing away.

 

“I’m not touching that sentence with a ten-meter broom, Frank.” He says, dry. “So, let us change the topic to less fraught topics. Grindelwald massacres, perhaps?”

 

Frank blinks, blinks again, and his smile twitches into a less idiotic, more shrewd expression for a moment, before it’s folded neatly back into mindless cheer. Got you, asshole.

 

“Why, Sirius, was that a - joke? I knew there was a real boy underneath the pomp and the violence.”

 

He lets his lips curve as hey would - there is no reason to swallow it down. He is not likely to have many opportunities to smile this night. “I assure you, I do not know the meaning of the word. Heir presumptive of House of Black does not joke, as you well know.”

 

Frank nods solemnly. “My apologies, your dark majesty. Your humble servant begs forgiveness.”

 

Sirius sneaks a glance at Lord and Lady Black who are chatting with Lady Abbot. He’s relatively safe. He draws himself up, throws his shoulders back, arches his neck and arranges his face into the most arrogant, aloof manner he knows.

 

“You are forgiven.”

 

Frank’s lips twitch, and so do his own. They share an amused look, before turning to their respective family members.

 

Sirius perhaps shouldn’t have been worried that Lord and Lady Black would take issue with his comportment, not when Regulus has entirely forgotten that he is speaking to the widowed matriarch of House of Longbottom. He is arguing whatever point of magical theory with an absolutely brattish expression.

 

He stares at the scene for a long moment, mind blank. He should probably step in, and soon. But - how? Regulus might be unspeakably rude, but interrupting their conversation would be catastrophic. He sends a faintly pleading look at Frank, but the boy looks at the disaster with a gleam of satisfaction. Frank doesn’t seem the type who would take pleasure in humiliating a boy of nine, so what is he missing?

 

He looks back to the scene, and this time focuses on the Lady. She is - not displeased? She looks like she’s enjoying the conversation. Amused lines crinkle around her eyes, and the corner of her lip keeps twitching. What exactly they’re discussing is immaterial - something to do with arithmancy applications in the design and construction of cauldrons of all the asinine things. But nothing suggests that she is in any way displeased with the way the newest Black child is acting.

 

“This is perfect.” Murmurs Frank. “Mother adores precocious children. You are entirely too violent to earn her favour, and less said about your elders the better. Regulus, however, you couldn’t have manipulated a better first impression if you tried.”

 

Sirius looks at the boy for a long moment. This is - Frank is invested in this. Unexpectedly complex and overarching facades aside, Frank wants the Blacks. At least he wants to build a relationship with them. The question is - why? It could be the usual, money, social prestige, and so forth. Not very likely. House of Longbottom is notoriously Light - just as House of Black is notoriously Dark. His house gains little from an alliance and loses a lot of support from its faction.

 

Frank notices his stare and pastes a cheery smile on his face. “I am ever so glad. I am so happy when my family and my friends get along.”

 

Sirius hums noncommittally. He needs more info, and he needs it now. The politics of this world are messy and exhausting, and he hadn’t given them any thought other than the bare necessity. It is, perhaps, wise to remedy that in the future.

 

(Or not, and just bide his time until their majority, grab his brother, and book it out of Britain. Regulus, Kreacher and Sirius can make their home in the farthest, sunniest tropical island they can find, and spend the rest of their days sweltering in the sun and getting horribly sunburned. That’s also an option.)

 

Regulus interrupts the bizarre twists of his thoughts. Puffed up almost double his size in indignation, he turns to Sirius. “Siri, I need a quill and parchment. Some people need graphical illustrations to see sense, apparently.”

 

Sirius miraculously represses a bark of laughter. His brother is a marvel.

 

“While that may be true,” He says, keeping the laugh from his voice as best he can. “The discussion may be perhaps postponed until a later time? We are, after all, at your Presentation.”

 

Regulus starts a little, having forgotten that little detail and two forces battle it out in him for a long moment. Academic zeal to prove his point ends up losing narrowly against the almighty wrath of Lady Melania.

 

“True.” He admits grudgingly. He turns back to the Lady, who is only impassive to a very inexperienced observer. He tries to smooth his expression into politeness but only partly succeeds. “May I send you correspondence, Lady Longbottom?”

 

“I insist on it, young Regulus. You have yet to admit you are incorrect.”

 

Regulus hisses like a cat, but the smile remains on his face, a weak, utterly insincere little grimace that suggests a host of aspersions of the Lady’s character, family tree and bedroom activities. “I look forward to our correspondence, Lady. Siri, come. We should - meet someone else.” He blinks at the Lady, lips twisted in the same sickly smile. “Anyone else.”

 

“Right away,” Replies Sirius, amused beyond all sense. “Frank, Lady - my Lord and Master beckons. Merry part.”

 

“Merry part,” echo the two Longbottoms, each more amused than the last.

 

***

 

“Ooooh, that woman.” Hisses Regulus. Sirius would bet both of his eyes, the boy didn’t remember a single soul he’d met in the past twenty minutes, busy stewing with frustration.

 

“Lady Longbottom is a formidable Lady, yes.”

 

“She doesn’t know the first thing about Arithmancy, Siri!”

 

Oh, I think she does, he thinks fondly. I think she had fun winding you up.

 

“We will discuss it later, little brother.” Murmurs Sirius. “But Grandmother will chop you up into itty bitty pieces if you don’t focus. This is not an arena where you can afford to be distracted.”

 

“Fine,” spits Regulus, and draws himself up. “But I will write her a long and stern letter, do you hear me.”

 

“As well as you should.”

 


 

They get little time to compose themselves before they have to dive into the clutch of the Neutrals. Regulus’s rage held him strong for a while, but nerves are making themselves known, and - alright. A plan.

 

He meanders to the Lord and Lady Black and pretends at eating a canapé. “Can we steer him toward scholars?”

 

“Indeed we can.” Replies Arcturus casually scanning the room. “We have plenty to choose from. Would it help?”

 

“I believe so.” He hums, before snagging a bit of cream topped salmon. He needs an offering to his brother, after all, and Regulus loves fish. (For all that the boy doesn’t like cats, he’s eerily like one himself. Then again, Sirius has never seen a cat that isn’t at best mildly murderous about any and all felines, so. Fits.)

 

“Lord Marcus Slughorn, and his hair Horace,” Whispers Grandmother behind them. “Heir Slughorn is the Head of Slytherin at Hogwarts, which makes him an invaluable ally to cultivate.”

 

Regulus’s eyes glint at the whispered instruction, while Sirius nods, completely disinterested. He will be very, very surprised if he needs his Black name to help him excellent at schoolwork. His classmates will be eleven, honestly. He has something of a head-start.

 

“Merry meet, Lord Slughorn, Heir Slughorn.” Regulus’s welcoming bow is angled flawlessly, as is the polite smile on his face.

 

“Merry meet.” The Lord nods at the two of them, and bows deep to their trailing Grandparents. Heir Slughorn follows although he bows to Sirius as well.

 

Lord Marcus Slughorn Lord is a plain man, which is frankly - odd. English Wizarding Nobility was almost to a wizard selected for a certain type of well-bred loveliness. While variety suffered, they did manage to produce the extremes of their category. That category being tall, willowy bodies, and elfin, otherworldly features. Lord Slughorn doesn’t seem to bother with any of it. He’s far from slovenly, but his attire is decidedly severe, matching his too-long, sallow face. His hair is white, long and thin, stuck together in weak looking clumps. Not ugly, definitely not. But sends a strong image of a man concerned with things other than appearance.

 

His son, in contrast, is the very image of indigence and love of finer things in life. Of an average height, plump and rosy-cheeked. His hairline is steadily decreasing, and his robes are almost comically flamboyant.

 

The air of harmless hedonist is so expertly woven, that Sirius’s inner Shinobi stands up and takes note. While he wasn’t interested in politicking - especially not with schoolteachers for goodness sake - this man is more than he seems. Which makes him interesting.

 

“My Lord,” Says Regulus, breaking the silence easily. “I have greatly enjoyed your paper on the hybridization of Dirigible Plums. Please, do you plan on publishing more about your methods? I find the idea of arithmantic applications in herbology fascinating, but there is not much literature available.”

 

And - they’re off. Perfect. It’s not clear if Regulus noticed his interest, and thus provided the opportunity to converse with the Heir, but he is speaking the truth. He remembers when Regulus stumbled across that paper and the minor obsessive episodes about Herbology that ensued.

 

“Heir Slughorn,” He says pleasantly. “I hear you are the Head of House Slytherin. You must be very proud of your accomplishments.”

 

The portly man can’t quite meet his eyes, and the smile that spread on his face is false and beyond strained. “Ah, yes, Heir Black, thank you, yes.”

 

Sirius blinks at him. Hold on. Why is - is the man frightened? Of Sirius? Why on earth -

 

Let’s try another approach. “I will be attending Hogwarts soon, and am looking forward to your instruction. I’m sure you have much wisdom to share.”

 

Slughorn - shudders. It’s small and barely noticeable, but actual shudder trembles through his shoulders. “Yes, I - I was looking forward to your joining my house since your Presentation. Your cousins are all Slytherins, of course.”

 

“Indeed.” He hums noncommittally, observing the man closely. Hmmm - he doesn’t remember Slughorn per se, but as an Heir to a respectable Neutral House, he would have been invited and had no reasons not to attend. Which, okay, Sirius already suspected there was more to the man than his getup would suggest. It’s only confirmed if the man saw through Grandfather’s illusion, and saw the, eh, disarrayed attire. It would explain some of his reservation, but even a few bloodstains wouldn’t explain so much apprehension.

 

Should he try to diffuse it? Nah. “It would be my honour to count myself as one of your students.” He murmurs, still smiling politely, but allowing some of the calculation to show through.

 

Slughorn pales and clasps his arms behind his back. “Yes, of course. Thank - Thank you.” He says, and pauses, before exclaiming. “Oh, I do apologize, but I just spotted a very dear friend. I do beg your pardon, but I am afraid I simply must be off. Merry part, Master Black, Heir Black, Lady Black, Lord Black.”

 

And with a last bow - too deep to be polite, but too honest to be mocking, he waddles off to hide. His Lord Father notices the swift retreat and barks his farewells before hurrying after his errant heir.

 

“Interesting,” Muses Grandfather. “Sirius, you didn’t do anything to him, did you?”

 

“No,” replies Sirius just as mystified. “No, I’m afraid I did not a thing to a single Slughorn alive or dead. And yet, he’s terrified of me. Brother, how was your conversation?”

 

“Informative.” Replies Regulus. “Lord Slughorn is a pioneer in his field. More importantly, he was perfectly pleasant. Whatever problem his son has with you, he doesn’t share.”

 

“Something to be kept in mind, perhaps. It will certainly make your schooling memorable.”

 

Sirius hums. “Indeed it will.”

 

Lord and Lady Shafiq meander to their little group, then, and there is no more time to think about puzzling adults.

 

 


 

“The Dark families are left. You need not worry too much, here.” Says Sirius under his breath. They are currently between groups, ostensibly getting some refreshments, but in truth giving Regulus some time to compose himself. He had just about come to blows with young Heir Ollivander, who was about Regulus’s age, and just as bratty when it came to scholarly matters. “They will want to like you. Be as hard as you can, with them. They appreciate strength and viciousness.”

 

“I don’t. Appreciate that. So.” Murmurs Regulus, bodily trembling with nerves. 

 

“As I said, they want to like you. They like me fine, and I came with bloody clothing and half a mind to murder everyone in the room and run back to you.” He smooths an invisible line in Regulus’s robes.

 

“Which would make them like you, not me. I like books and numbers and animals. I don’t like violence and terror. That’s what I’ve got you for.”

 

Sirius smiles, charmed. “You do indeed. And they know that. So I’ve got the part covered. You just - do you. How about this. Lord Flint - he’s a Master Herbologist, and he’s the one who managed to breed Britain’s magical variant of the Mulberry tree. There is no reason why you can’t spend your time chatting with him about it. ”

 

Regulus’s eyes widen and glaze over slightly. “Lord - really? A magical mulberry tree? How do you know this?”

 

Sirius raises an eyebrow, to little effect. “I do know some things you don’t.”

 

Regulus waves his hand impatiently. “Yes, yes, but about - dangerous, fighting things, not - scholarly things.”

 

“Not at all true,” Sirius teases. “I am, in fact, researching my future Mastery, and have been since March.”

 

Regulus gasps, before his eyes narrow. “We will talk about his later, Siri, so help me. Now, explain about Lord Flint.”

 

He shrugs. “I like silk. Mulberry trees are their only things silkworms eat. The Asian countries all have their species of magical mulberry trees, and silkworms of course, but they refuse to share them. Lord Flint has been working on this for decades. It is an amazing achievement, one that will see him as a comfortably rich House - not as much as the Notts or the Malfoy, but far above those like the Parkinsons and the Yaxley.”

 

“Creating a magical plant - how on earth -” breathes Regulus, entirely disinterested in anything past that point. “Amazing. Quick, Siri, I must pick his brain.”

 

Mission - complete.

 


 

The introductions go off without a hitch. Ironically, Regulus makes an excellent impression, since his disinterested eyes pass over the gathered Lords without a hint of being intimidated. After procedural greetings, Regulus pounces on Lord Flint, peppering him with questions about his work and life and handwriting style. The Lord - an unassuming man, getting along in years, is entirely baffled by this strange child interrogating him when there are so many more interesting - and important - Lords in the room. Nevertheless, he’s a scholar before he’s anything else, and interest is interest. It helps that Regulus asks intelligent questions, and wants to know everything.

 

Lord and Lady Black, as is the custom, remain back, and let the children do as they would - it is considered uncouth for guardians to step in unless necessary. They snag their conversational partners - two Neutral Ladies that walked by - and for all the world aren’t paying attention.

 

Sirius, then, has to amuse the Lords somehow. Lord Riddle is there, as expected, as are Lord Malfoy, Lord Nott, Lord Rosier, who were present at his Presentation. In addition, two more Lords came this time, Lord LeStrange and Lord Carrow - and not an Heir to be seen. What a suspicious thing to happen.

 

It is perhaps safest for Sirius to break the ice, as it were, and at least try to control the conversation somehow. “Please, my Lords, excuse my brother’s distraction. He is, even after adjusting for my brotherly bias, a budding scholar. I’ve spoken to him about Lord Flints research, and there was no containing him.”

 

“No matter.” Says Lord Riddle. Like last time, when Riddle speaks, everyone else tenses, quietens and listens. Lord Flint and Regulus have wandered off to the nearby table while everyone was occupied by Sirius - presumably to get supplementary materials for their discussion. “I noticed you met Heir Slughorn.”

 

Sirius already decided the best way to handle Riddle was to be as Uchiha as possible. No child of eleven is dangerous, no matter how trained. Not to this man. But surely, he can be interesting. Interesting and too inconvenient to remove.

 

He meets the dangerous man’s eyes without fear, but with a fuck of a lot of caution. Riddle looks - tired. His eyes have sunken further, and the dark circles have grown more pronounced. His lips are bitten red, and in general, he looks slightly - wilder than before. If the rest of the Purebloods look fey, he looks feline, eyes glinting with cruel amusement only cats can truly possess.

 

Sirius tilts his head sideways, letting some of his amusement at the cowardly man show. (Is it cowardice to fear monsters? Most - but not all - of the people in this room would run screaming in fear if they knew of the depraved the trail of corpses Sirius has left in his wake. )

 

“Heir Slughorn appeared to be quite - averse - to my presence. I do so worry I may have offended him somehow. My Hogwarts years are about to begin after all.”

 

Riddles eyes glint. He looks curious for a moment, before a note of real humour lightens the dark blue of his eyes, and tilts a corner of his lips. “Oh, is that so. Thank you, Heir Black, for this delightful bit of information. “

 

Sirius is not the Heir. For Lord Riddle to be referring to him as such is a statement, one that doesn’t go unheard in the company. He has a feeling Arcturus is already recalculating his attachment to his son if even his allies consider a ten-year-old child to be the better choice.

 

He meets Riddles eyes and inclines his head. A favour for a favour. “Please, my Lord, call me Sirius.” There you go. Heir presumptive of the Blacks named you Lord. That is far from nothing.

 

Flawless lips twitch into a satisfied smirk. “I think I will, young Sirius. To return to the topic at hand, I believe Heir Slughorn may find your resemblance to a former student of his somewhat - disquieting, perhaps. He is, when it comes down to it, a collector. By his very nature, he would cherish Heir Black, especially since he taught the previous.”

 

It takes a moment to parse through the new information. The dig at Orion is delicious, of course, but - former student? Is he -

 

Does he dare ask? He surpasses a semi-hysterical snort. Absolutely not. He might be an amusing curiosity to the Lord, but as things stand, Riddle could crush him without pausing for breath. And the same cannot be said for every other Lord. With the others, he could escape. They would underestimate him, they would despise him. Ultimately, they would make mistakes, that Itachi could exploit. Not Riddle. He would go for the quickest, meanest death, without hesitation and without mercy.

 

Most he dares is let the question shine from his eyes as he meets Riddles.

 

“Indeed, I speak of myself.” Hums the Lord, lips ticking up, up, up, until teeth peek out behind his lips. It’s - not a nice smile.

 

“As you say, my Lord.” He says after a moment’s pause. “Although I do not dare claim any such resemblance.”

 

Lord Riddle huffs out a sort-of-but-not-really huff of amusement. “Indeed, little Black. I do not think we are very much alike at all.”

 

There is subtext there, but Sirius doesn’t think he should take the words as an insult. Or praise. A mere statement of fact.

 

“I wouldn’t know, my Lord.” He twitches his head into a small nod, studying the older man. “But I can see why Heir Slughorn would be - distressed - by the reminder.”

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

The Presentation is the height of success. Grandfather is so pleased, he had bought them an island as a reward. Sirius honestly cannot begin to understand the ludicrous amounts of wealth the Black family has amassed over the centuries. They have an island. Regulus and Sirius will, once they are legally allowed to own property, have an island in the Caribbean entirely in their name.

 

Bewildering displays of wealth aside, there is a dark side to their inexplicable rise in status.

 

Most of it is, truthfully, his fault. The Presentation was a success, yes, but it also resulted in Sirius being addressed as Heir Black. And both Orion and Walburga took it personally. Even her fanatical loyalty to her Lord Black wasn’t enough to overlook this perceived betrayal.

 

Should he have made a thing of it, back then? He could have likely been able to quash the rumours. He could have demurred. If he had done so in a pathetic enough fashion, Riddle and the rest would have been disgusted enough to write him off as useless then and there.

 

However, and this is more or less the sticking point, he despises Orion Black to the ends of the world. There are not a lot of things he wouldn’t do to humiliate and disgrace the man. To be widely known to be inferior to your eleven-year-old son - it’s the epitome of disgraceful.

 

Sirius was never going to give that up. Not for the increase in hostilities, not for Walburga’s dubious neutrality, not for anything. They are alive, which is a step too far in his opinion.

 

Fuck. Them. In short.

 

There are a few downsides. The main one being Regulus’s wellbeing. His brother grows wearier by the day. Even his beloved texts struggle to hold his interest. He flinches at sudden noises and raised voices render him close to catatonic. It’s understandable - it’s even healthy - for the boy to be irrationally uncomfortable with violence. He’s a child, who is coping with his trauma as best he can. Nevertheless, now that Walburga and Orion are in the house at all times, screaming rows are quickly becoming the norm. Well - that’s not strictly speaking true. Walburga doesn’t scream, and Itachi hasn’t screamed since Shisui died.

 

Which brings them neatly to the other major downside. Sirius’s dual personality is - shifting yet again. For almost two years, he’s lived his life as Sirius, a nominally happy and sane little boy. Now, though. The constant negative attention, his father screaming at him at all times, and his mother trying to leash him with increasingly vicious and unhinged methods - well. The Sirius part of him tries, but more and more he wakes and endures and goes back to sleep as Itachi.

 

Which makes for an interesting dynamic from a sociological perspective. Itachi is chronologically about thirty years old. He is not a child, and moreover, he’s a man taught over a long stretch of time how to best deal with threats.

 

Regulus stays in their rooms when he’s not at Castle Black, but Itachi - Itachi is stuck.

 

On one hand, he’s leaving for Hogwarts soon. There is nothing he can do about that. He must attend - he needs his OWL’s at the very least. Grandfather is passingly fond of him - tolerant of what he sees as foibles. Moreover, his affection for Regulus is honest and unfeigned. None of that will get them his unquestioning support. No, Itachi needs to go - Sirius needs to go - to Hogwarts. (It’s imperative that it’s Sirius and not Itachi that goes to Hogwarts, actually.)

 

However, Itachi is physically incapable of leaving his brother in a hostile situation, even should he somehow hypnotize his mind into believing that is a valid choice. No, it’s not safe for Regulus here, once Itachi leaves. Once Sirius leaves. Goddamn it.

 

So - what to do?

 

Grandfather would have invited them to move in with him, should he had wished to. He hadn’t met so much as a single Black outside of the immediate family - which is also a sign, surely. Itachi is something of a poisoned chalice. His intelligence and heirship look like a great boon but his visible and absolute rebellion against his life-givers at age nine marks him as dangerous. If he could turn against his mother so easily and resolutely, why wouldn’t he turn on a distant aunt or cousin?

 

In the back of everybody’s mind a thought rattles. Yes, he’s a genius. A prodigy even. But - there are other Black children. It wouldn’t be so bad if this one - stopped being. Nobody wants to be the one that made the Black genius - cease - and they would all unanimously strike that person down, but. It would be an acceptable loss. Itachi knows all this because he’s very much been here before. The same thing played out after Shisui died and he moved his conflict with Fugaku in the open. The MPF, all of his family, they wanted him gone, they would’ve slept better with him removed. But they couldn't brave the consequences of removing the rightful heir of the Clan. Even if they could have managed it.

 

(He would have let them, he thinks. He knows. If but one person snuck into his rooms at night with a poisoned blade, he’d have welcomed the chance to just - not be.)

 

“What do you think, Kreacher?” He asks in the end. “We cannot stay here, anymore. Regulus must be safe. I’d sooner burn the house down, than let Regulus live here, without me.”

 

“You must leave.” Agrees Kreacher, hoarse voice so low it sounds like rustling. He’s just as upset as Regulus is, but not for the same reason. After all the decades and centuries, he’s well and truly used to violence. It’s Sirius’s transformation to Itachi that pains and frightens him. Regulus accepts his changed mannerisms with endless grace and love. Kreacher is nowhere near as sanguine.

 

“We must leave, dear.” Corrects Itachi. “But where?”

 

“Castle Black.” The reply is immediate and certain. “Lord Black will not turn you away.”

 

“Will he not?” Itachi is not certain. “I think he might. Having us around for a few hours every week is not the same as being our primary guardian.”

 

“Lord Black cares for you. He need not get involved more, he need just give you a room to sleep in.”

 

And if Orion and Walburga weren’t dipping their toes in the insanity pool, Itachi would be in firm agreement. But the more unhinged the two grow, the less predictable they become. Walburga would perhaps honour the sanctity of Castle Black. Orion - might very well not.

 

“I don’t dare leave anything uncertain.” Says Itachi. “My letter will arrive soon - and that will be a thrown gauntlet, I think. From then on, we have a little under a year, to make things official. A year is - a lot for me, but not for the Government. And as the Goblins mentioned, without some serious backing, we will be laughed outside of the Ministry if we tried to declare Heir Black as an unfit guardian.”

 

Kreacher to his credit thinks on his words carefully. After a few moments of pause, he sighs. “Kreacher understands - I understand. You don’t trust the Lord to fight for you. Can we make him do so?”

 

“I don’t know that we can.” It is not an easy thing to admit. “There is not a lot that we can do. Magically, politically, financially, he’s got us firmly under his thumb. The most we could hope for is magical independence if we get ourselves disinherited. As for the rest of it - well. If the Ministry got their paws on two Black children, they would auction us off to the highest bidder, we both know that. So, I would leave only as the last resort.”

 

He would. He would leave. He just desperately doesn’t want to. He’s been Clan-less once, and he would do much to not be that again.

 

Kreacher shivers violently. “We run only for our lives, young Master. Only ever for our lives.”

 

“A fine Shinobi sentiment, for a Shinobi guardian.”

 


 

“Force won’t work, but why not blackmail?” Muses Regulus, from his spot on Itachi’s belly. The two of them retreated to their ultimate comfort spot, a pile of pillows and blankets in front of a large fire-place.

 

God, this topic. “Blackmail is. Complicated.” Itachi says. “It’s not a winning strategy. It can never be winning strategy. At best it’s a stop-gap measure, and even then it’s a volatile situation. You create an enemy for life and leave him space and time to plot against you. If it came to that, I’d sooner go with assassination than blackmail.”

 

“Who would you even assassinate, here?” A tone of morbid interest sneaks into Regulus’s dry tone.

 

“Orion,” replies Itachi without a pause. “That would solve a lot of problems. Orion is Heir Black, and Walburga has power through him. If he’s out of the picture, the Heirship doesn’t revert to her, it goes to the next male heir in line.”

 

“Just one measly assassination,” says Regulus, lips twisting. “But to get back to saner waters, perhaps blackmail isn’t a good option, but bribery? Proactive bribery - we would only corner Grandfather a bit, enough to force a decision.”

 

Forcing a decision sounds like a terrible idea to Itachi. There is a measure of control in working with the situation as it is, with redirecting it where you would like.

 

“What would we bribe him with, then?”

 

Regulus hums, deep in thought. “I think Grandfather needs a token, something to give him the excuse to name you Heir Black. He wants to already, he loves you like he would his own son. Which is only ever the more obvious since he doesn’t actually love his own son.”

 

Itachi makes a noncommittal sound. Regulus is yet an itty-bitty Black, somehow still overwhelmingly good, so he won’t burst any bubbles here. But Grandfather doesn’t love Itachi - Sirius. He is fond of him at absolute most.

 

“He won’t name me Heir. I am too young. I cannot do the admin duties - and you cannot do them for me.”

 

“We need a concrete, fool-proof plan to herd Grandfather. I will work on it. In the meantime, you will be getting your wand soon. You should research some flashy magic to demonstrate why you’re this prodigy everyone speaks about. You’re already more valuable to Grandfather than Orion is. If your worth grows even more, you can threaten to leave and join a different family. Every Dark family would snap you up in a moment. Then I will come in with a very reasonable, not at all extreme method of resolution and bam, we win.”

 

Itachi hums, morose. It’s a good plan, in its simplicity. But things are never so simple. There is a human element to this shitshow that Regulus just isn’t counting with.

 

Whatever the case may be, they can’t do worse to them but kick them out. Itachi will remove himself from Hogwarts in a heartbeat, and he and Regulus can hide out for a year or two in the woods. Their vaults are theirs, irrespective of their inheritance. They will live there until it’s Regulus’s time to go to Hogwarts, and Itachi can sit his OWL’s in the Ministry. After Regulus graduates, they can jump this sinking ship and emigrate to Cuba.

 

Easy.

 

 


 

 

Contrary to Itachi’s wishes, November third is a beautiful, sunny day. For six weeks, he fumes, it’s been raining non-stop. For six weeks, and now - sunny. When is it even sunny in November in Goddamn England?

 

“The crowds,” he moans miserably to Kreacher. The room they’ve coopted as more or less theirs is filled with texts. Recently, Regulus has - to nobody’s surprise - been keenly interested in politics. Wizarding texts on politics are rather primitive things, but the Muggles, oh the things the Muggles have come up with ideas that blow Itachi’s mind. If he wasn’t as busy as he was, he’d be neck-deep in philosophy, strategy and tactics. The sheer number of abstract thinkers is staggering. His task, sadly, is too important to shunt away.

 

“Indeed.” Kreacher’s voice is grim, every bit as displeased as Itachi is. He understandably detests crowds, and especially for Itachi’s first Outing.

 

Today, today his letter will be arriving. The sun is barely up, so there’s a few hours yet to go, but the entire Castle is aware of the day and its significance. The row with Orion was especially explosive yesterday, so their retreat to Castle Black was warranted. The man’s insults have grown less and less inspired, the longer it takes him to truly wound Itachi in any way. Which, considering the man doesn’t know him from Merlin, is not surprising. Walburga is a far craftier opponent, there. She knows how to wound a person, and arguments with her usually end with a swift retreat on Itachi’s part, before things turn - complicated.

 

“Cheer up, brother,” Says Regulus, eyes wide and manic. Neither one of them had a wink of sleep the previous night, too excited (Regulus), wary (Itachi) and long-suffering (Kreacher). “It’s an opportunity. Grandfather will be escorting us, after all, and he will enjoy showing you off. You just need to look like a Pureblood prodigy and we’re golden.”

 

Itachi groans theatrically, flopping back into his pillows. “Crowds, Regulus. Masses of strangers gawking and whispering and existing in my space. The noise, brother, the hubbub.”

 

“Tosh.” Says Regulus. “I am the one with the aversion to crowds. You are just a snob.”

 

“Miserable misanthrope, thank you very much.” He throws back. “Also - even if I were a snob, which I am not -  that is irrelevant here. I have no issue with the relative wealth of the masses. I just don’t want to be in them.”

 

“A wand, ‘Tachi.” Breathes Regulus, fed up with the moaning. “A proper wand, and almost a full year to use it without supervision.”

 

“Don’t call me that.” Mumbles Itachi, not for the last time. “And yes, a wand will be fascinating to use. I might even realize why wizards are so obsessed with them.”

 

“I will call you Itachi when you’re Itachi, and Sirius when you’re Sirius.” Says Regulus automatically, like every other time. “And you better choose a wand that accepts me too. I will not be waiting another two years before I start with wanded-magic.”

 

Itachi stifles a yawn. “I will leave it to you to make your case to Lord Ollivander. Perhaps you can make up for the fact that you tried to bodily shake his Heir at your Presentation.”

 

“That little brat.” Mutters Regulus. “Thank Circe he won’t be in my year. I can’t imagine sharing classes with such a smug little cretin.”

 

“Now, now,” smirks Itachi. “Just because Heir Ollivander doesn’t think Arithmancy is the endpoint of all knowledge doesn’t make him a brat.”

 

“It absolutely does.” Declares Regulus. “And it always will. For an Ollivander to  disparage the field of Arithmancy is, is, immoral. Indecent. Reprehensible.”

 

Itachi throws his hands back, arching into a stretch. “I pity your Head of House, I really do. As a matter of fact,” he pauses, shivering in delight as his spine pops. Pop-pop-pop-pop. Delicious. “- I pity your future spouse. It will be disheartening to know your heart will always belong to science.”

 

“Pff, as if that will be the sticking point. You realize whoever marries me will have to live with both of us? While I might be a delight, you are a threatening, snobbish elitist. Never mind me, I pity the fool who tries to court you.”

 

“True.” Yawns Itachi. “We will remain eternal bachelors, then. You, me and Kreacher, haunting Castle Black until the end of our days. I can think of worse fates.”

 


 

The letter arrives so conveniently at the end of breakfast, that Itachi is certain there is some magic involved, there. Regulus barely contains himself from screeching and diving for the damn thing, only kept in place by Lady Melania’s steely gaze.

 

“Congratulations, my boy.” Says Arcturus. Itachi raises his eyes, surprised by the man’s uncharacteristically emotional tone. Indeed, the man is positively misty-eyed.

 

“Thank you, Grandfather.” He says cautiously. He doesn’t need an emotional outburst now, especially since it’s unclear why the man is so emotional at all. Merlin’s mercy, he’s more choked up now than he was when discussing his son’s potential murder.

 

“Open. It.” Hisses Regulus, weathering the disapproving ‘tut’ from Lady Black with aplomb.

 

Alright, alright.

 

The envelope is a lovely, thick thing, and the wax seal is amusingly large and irreverent. A badger, a snake, a lion and a raven, and not a single depiction was chosen for dignity or grace. The lion is a bit chubby, the raven is missing quite a few feathers, the badger is cross-eyed, and the snake is tied into a knot.

 

“I am warning you.” Whispers Regulus.

 

Really.

 

He opens the damn thing, carefully not breaking the seal, and setting the clever thing to the side.

 

Dear Mr Black

 

He scans the formulaic words and hands the thing off to Regulus without a comment. There are exactly two interesting pieces of information there. The Headmaster is a figure of great renown, and he is Light, or he would have been mentioned in their household. Interesting. In Konoha, Academy instructors were paltry Shinobi, or, in the vanishingly rare case, handicapped Shinobi who somehow made it out alive. This Albus Dumbledore sounds like a Hokage more than he sounds like a schoolteacher.

 

He glances through the second page - banalities for the most part. Uniforms, books, equipment for classes and so on.

 

If not for the interesting question about his new Headmaster, he’d find the whole affair dreadfully underwhelming.

 

“Pardon me, Grandfather,” he says in a mild tone. “The sheer length of titles the Headmaster has - do they all pertain to a different political position, or are they more ceremonial in nature?”

 

The light in Arcturus’s eyes cools slightly. “I wish that were the case. No, Albus Dumbledore is a formidable man, both magically and politically. He holds most every important Political position we have.” He pauses for a bit before a cynical smile curls his lips. “Well, except that of the Minister of Magic, of course.”

 

Right. Every position except the one filled by the biggest dullard the Wizengamot can find.

 

“That’s - interesting.” Says Itachi.

 

“Who - oh Dumbledore,” Pipes in Regulus, torn from his detailed inspection of the letter. “I’ve read about him. He’s a fascinating man. Wait - you’ve read about him too! He was the one who defeated Lord Grindelwald a while ago. The transfiguration Master, remember?”

 

“Oh.” A displeased frown appears on his face. “The flashy one.”

 

Arcturus barks a laugh. “Flashy one indeed. You’d be wise to keep such thoughts to yourself, Sirius. Dumbledore is revered in most places. The second coming of Merlin, come call him.”

 

Itachi shrugs. “I can respect his achievement while disparaging his methods. Transfiguration is just about the least combat-oriented discipline I could name. He’d be better served with Herbology.”

 

Regulus rolls his eyes. “I will not sit through another one of these rants, brother. Transfiguration is a fine field, and you always talk about playing to your strengths. Well, Dumbledore is a Transfiguration Master. Why wouldn’t he use his best skill?”

 

“Useless skill,” Itachi mutters but lets it go. “Setting aside the Headmaster’s achievements, admirable though they are, how are we going about this. I assume we can get most of the supplies at Diagon?”

 

Packed though it will be.

 

“Indeed.” Nods Arcturus. “We will leave presently. My love, are you joining us?”

 

“Unfortunately not.” Says Lady Black. “I find the atmosphere in the Alleys to be - stifling in these times.”

 

“Of course. Well, children, to the floo. The address is,” he pauses and sighs minutely. “The Leaky Cauldron. And don’t make me repeat the horrid name.”

 


 

Is it tradition? It has to be tradition. Itachi eyes the filthy, rickety mess of a bar with morbid horror. It’s dingy even by Konohan standards. Hell, even by missing-nin standards. An S-class murderer he might have been, but elegant tea-houses were still his preferred establishments. This - bar - has black goo drooping from the ceiling, his shoes stick to the floor, and the air is thick with smoke. It has to be tradition, that snooty Pureblood Lords floo in here, and not, say, anywhere else.

 

He sends a shocked look Arcturus’s way and gets a grimace in return.

 

“It has to be done the once. Come on, let’s leave this horrid place before we catch the plague.”

 

Regulus, true to form, is craning his eye to see everyone. The patrons of the pub quieted when the Blacks arrived, and every eye in the room is trained on them. Which, considering what an eclectic collection of eyes it is, is especially notable.

 

Itachi surpasses a shudder, and blanks his face, body falling into a languid stance.

 

Onwards.

 


 

The entrance to Diagon is fairly amusing. A puzzle opened only with the use of a wand. Why they thought the puzzle is necessary is anyone’s guess. It’s not like a muggle could even see the pub. And if the protections of the pub aren’t enough, and a muggle walks in, wouldn’t the cat be already out of the bag.

 

It’s probably anther tradition. Or the puzzle was there first, and then they built the pub around it. It’s not a bad sense of marketing, honestly.

 

The alley is - unforgettable. Itachi has spent this life in the Wizarding World, and magic itself isn’t as surprising. But the sheer - whimsy - of this place is still enough to overwhelming.

 

The street is relatively narrow, with dozens of colourful shops on either side. The noise is almost deafening, hundreds of voices raised in conversation. Every store-front is as magical as you can please, with flashing signs, flying wares, and colour-changing doors.

 

Whimsical to the extreme.

 

Arcturus twitches and squares his shoulders. “Keep close, children.”

 

His warning is, as it happens, entirely unnecessary. The Black Lord is infamous enough that the crowd parts around them. A hush falls on their immediate surrounding, and furious whispers follow in their wake.

 

“I take it you’re not a frequent visitor either, Grandfather.” Says Regulus under his breath. His voice is impressively even, for all that the boy has paled dramatically, and his blank mask is cracking with stress.

 

“I am not, no.” Arcturus sweeps through the alley, steps long but measured, deceptively fast for all that he looks unhurried.

 

“I can see why.” Adds Itachi, adding a bit of prowl to his movements. The suffocating feeling of hundreds of people gawking at him like a circus animal brings back the taste of copper and the sound of distant screams to his mind. When he’s tangibly more Uchiha than Black, these things are closer to the surface than they should be.

 

“Ollivander’s first.” Says Arcturus evenly. “Then the uniform. Your elf can get the rest. We don’t need to spend any more time here than we have to.”

 

Regulus sloops in both gratitude and disappointment.

 

“Don’t worry, we will explore some more when it is less - busy.” Soothes Itachi, all the while keeping his body-language as threatening as possible without edging into vulgarity.

 

“It’s for the best.” Says Regulus. “It’s not like there is anything here that we don’t already have.”

 

“Except wands.” Adds Itachi. “And apparently robes.”

 

“School uniforms.” Corrects Regulus with a wicked little smile. Itachi grimaces. School uniforms at his age, Goddess wept.

 

“Right.”

 


 

Lord Ollivander is as odd as he remembers him to be. Hyuuga eyes gaze at them, seeing more and less than his Sharingan had, once. If not for the pupil being present, he’d have launched a - thorough - investigation into the House of Olivander. As it is, it is one more pang of otherness to add to this truly spectacular day.

 

“Merry meet.” Lord Olivander’s voice suits his aesthetic, wispy and airy and - false. There was nothing airy or wispy with little Alcott, white eyes notwithstanding. This behaviour is either a by-product of wand making business or a deliberate choice to unnerve the customers.

 

“Merry meet,” echo the Blacks, bowing in cascade - a nod, a shallow bow, and Regulus topping it off with a deep bow.

 

“A wand for young Master Black, then? Well, step forward, let us begin. I dare hope this will be an interesting one.”

 

“Wand arm?”

 

“I am ambidextrous, my Lord.” Replies Itachi, keeping an even face as the man stares at him unblinkingly for a long series of minutes.

 

“Indeed, indeed. Well - I daresay we will have to take a few steps back. No, the usual method would be too - trite. No, no, no.” He trails off while swooping around the shop without rhyme or reason. “Let us start at the basics.”

 

“Here we go.” He ambles back with four boxes of varying lengths and widths. “To start with.” He punctuates his words by placing the respective box on the table. “Rowan,” a slim box. “Hawthorn,” a slightly wider, shorter box. “Oak,” about the width of the first one, and significantly longer than either, “Adler,” widest one yet, and less than an inch shorter than the previous one.

 

“Give them a feel.” The Lord hesitates for a moment, unseeing eyes gaining a little bit of focus. “However, just in case.” He waves his wand, and a wide panel of wood inscribed in thousands of tiny runes glides from the back room. “Aim there, why don’t you.”

 

Izanami, but this is ridiculous. With an internal despairing sigh, he opens the first box. A flash of displeasure storms though him and he drops the offending instrument hastily. That was a very empathic reaction.

 

“No, no, I thought not. Not with the -”

 

Not with the what, you old frog?

 

“Never mind that. Moving on, moving on.”

 

Slightly wary now, he touches the second wand. It’s decidedly less smooth, with visible knots and twists in the wood, but the general shape of it is relatively similar - the handle is simple in design, without any additional ornaments, or unusual additions.

 

So far so good, no pain, no nothing. The wand sits inertly in his hand until he points it at the panel and twirls it into a circle. A screech of wind and a deep cut cuts into the panel. Runes flash, and the damage smoothes itself out without issue. Interesting.

 

“No, no, not that. Very interesting - I would have thought. No, well, no sense in whinging about it.”

 

The wandmaker is in his own world, and the fact that Itachi knows he won’t explain his maddening mumbles makes him that much more annoying.

 

“Next, next, come on now.” The wandmaker loses more and more of his Pureblood manners, the longer the process goes. Arcturus doesn’t blink an eye, which means allowances are made for déformation professionnelle.

 

He picks up the third one - this one he recognizes. Oak. Konohan woods were all synthetically made - Hashirama grew them himself. As such the trees were all clones of the same species - later named Hashirama trees. Outside of the immediate surroundings, however, there was a lot of Oak. The wand is smooth and as plain as the rests, if longer.

 

Unless he’s very mistaken, Olivander has some sort of systematic approach to this. For the sake of the scientific process, he replicates the same movement of before.

 

A rather confused blob of light emits from the tip of the wand, not too bright, and sort of fizzling out.

 

“Oooooh, interesting.” Warbles the wandmaker. “Oh, yes, yes, of course. Yes, I should have known.”

 

He yanks the wand from his hand and doesn’t even let him try the final wand.

 

“Oh, yes, yes, yes.” He chants to himself, with a little hop in his step. “Yes, yes, yes.”

 

He comes back with another six wands.

 

“Oh yes, yes, now these. Oak, Holly, Redwood, Sequoia, Cherry, Beech. Come on, come on.”

 

Itachi sighs. This will be a painful process, he can just tell

 


 

The bewildering process takes - hours. Whatever esoteric measures the maniac uses, they are very much unclear to Itachi. The wandmaker went through everything - wood type, length, carving style, flexibility, everything.

 

After a little while, he mostly stopped with verbal communication at all, and just got stranger and stranger, laughing, and murmuring, and oohing and aching at random times. He’d exclaim random words such as ‘horn’ or ‘reservoir’ but other than that, there was no actual meaning to his words.

 

“Now, this.” After digging through the store for a specific box, he lays it in front of Itachi with great satisfaction. Some of the madness has settled in his eyes, and he sees more settled, anticipatory but certain.

 

Apprehensive now, but undeniably curious, he opens the box, and looks over the wand.

 

It’s dark red, a shade or two deeper than blood, and gnarly. The wood is inlaid with a mineral of some sort, metallic-grey but speckled with gold. It’s, visually speaking, a beautiful piece, that Itachi would honestly rather display than use. It’s markedly shorter than the rest, shortest one yet, perhaps eight inches in total, with a comfortable-looking handle, and barely a pommel to speak of.

 

The air of anticipation is heavy in the air, and Arcturus and Regulus, who have long since lost interest, lean forward.

 

Some subconscious feeling they all share tells them: this is it.

 

He picks up the lovely instrument, and - its not joy or elation that spreads through him, but a firmness, a feeling of certainty perhaps slightly mixed with a grim flavour of determination.

 

He swishes it, and a stream of blue-white fire flows out of the tip, disappearing before it hits the ground.

 

“Perfect!” Crows Ollivander, the pitch high and devoid of all wispiness. “Yes, of course.”

 

He looks at the wand with pride and satisfaction. “A paradoxical wand, yes, but also not at all. An omen of the passage of time, perhaps.”

 

“Pardon?” Itachi can’t help but ask. While the Shinobi part of him is horrified by what he can sense is an obsessive connection of wizard and wand forming inside of him, the wizard part of him purrs in satisfaction. It’s - teamwork, partnership. The wand is sentient, living, and willing to work with him - within reason.

 

“It is undoubtedly a perfect match, but a surprising one.” Hums Olivander, eyes finally seeing into this plane. “I would not have thought to match this wand with a child of eleven.”

 

A sort of resigned amusement settles around Itachi’s shoulders like a well-fitting cloak.

 

“Why so?” Asks Arcturus. Regulus just catches his eyes and smiles slightly a pained but supportive smile.

 

Ollivander turns to face Arcturus. It’s clear he’d rather be talking to the Lord than Itachi.

 

“The core was clear from the beginning - it is Phoenix feathers or nothing for young Sirius. The wood, however, is - ah. Cherry wood is interesting on its own, but this wand wasn’t happy with how flexible and whippy it was. It demanded an inlay, a fortifying if you will. An addition, to modify and expand on the character. I don’t often hand such complex wands to children - they are too unformed, to malleable themselves to need it. Adults, yes, third or fourth wands tend to require added complexity. But this wand wouldn’t budge until it got its hematite inlay.”

 

White eyes skitter to Itachi’s and the well of curiosity and otherworldly insight is heavy to bear. “I do not envy your life, past, present or future. But I will follow it with great interest.”

 

“Thank you,” interrupts Arcturus firmly, eying the odd wand with a little well-hidden curiosity. “What do we owe you.”

 

A mischievous smirk flashes over Olivander’s features. “Seven galleons, as it is for every first wand.” The man hums a low laugh but doesn’t offer any further commentary

 

What exactly is so funny, nobody has any time to care.

 

“Do you have a wand-holster?” He asks before the Lord has finalized the transaction.

 

“Oh no, not here. Goodness, I am no leather-worker. But a warning, if you will. A wand of such - complex personality - will not let itself be bound in inferior work. You will have to match the leather to its liking, or suffer the consequences.”

 

“I know just the place.” Says Arcturus with a pleased little smile. His Grandfather knows more about Itachi’s wand than Itachi does. It would be best to let Regulus squeeze the information out of the man in his own time. There is not a single adult alive who could resist his brother’s earnest thirst for knowledge.

 

“Merry part,” murmurs the wandmaker, disappearing to the back of his store without giving them time to respond.

 

Regulus - who has been suspiciously quiet for a while now, hums noncommittally. “I don’t think it would suit me at all, brother.”

 

He thinks about the gnarly, fierce wand. “No, I don’t think it would.”

 

Arcturus falls into the practised, cold persona easily. “It would be best not to give it the chance to disfigure you, child. I don’t know what to think about it, myself. A very old, very particular wand has chosen you, Sirius. I need to think about what that means.”

 

“I am very old and particular, obviously.” Whispers Itachi dryly. Regulus huffs out a pseudo-laugh but doesn’t comment.

 

It would be best to add wand lore to the list of subjects to delve deeper into.

 


 

The rest of the trip is conducted in a brisk and efficient manner. All three are deep in their thoughts, wondering as to the odd experience with the wandmaker. They only have the robes and the uniforms to buy, and then they can retreat.

 

The robe shop is a predictable affair. Their name and galleons see them ushered into a private sitting room. Arcturus, expression grim and determined, goes into the fray. Itachi’s input is blessedly unnecessary - his measurements were taken magically, and the two brothers are left to wait while the adults determine appropriate colours and materials.

 

Which the perfect opportunity to consider the matter of his wand. The wand, Itachi considers, should not have taken him so surprised. His willful ignorance rose, as it often did, to bite him. His borderline disdain for wands, unwillingness to consider them as something other than focusing devices blinded him.

 

Magic isn’t Chakra, he repeats over and over again, hoping to remember it this time. Foci for Chaka might have been crutches for those unwilling to train control, but wands were beings unto themselves. He feels his wand physically, senses it’s energy and how it interlocks with his own and produces something different. It’s not mysticism, it’s observable fact. He’s attuned to his own body enough to know that the amalgam of wood, stone and phoenix is alive, has its own thing going on quite irrespective of Itachi.

 

It’s honestly a wild concept. Magic is - inexplicable. At least to him. It’s almost sacrilegious - or religious, depending on the outlook. The force itself is sentient, the source of it is unknowable and incomprehensible, and the results are - fantastical. He should just accept it and move on. Somehow.

 

“I think I understand wizards a bit better.” He tells Regulus under his breath. “If someone destroyed my wand - it would end badly for everyone.”

 

His brother looks at him with too-wise eyes. “I anticipated something similar. You love fiercely, brother, and it’s natural that love will extend to your wand. I daresay you won’t find it as easy to destroy them, now.”

 

Itachi blinks. “It depends, perhaps. But any wand that lets itself be wielded by a worm like Orion Black deserves to be burnt, either because it’s wormish in its own right, or because it should be put out of its misery.”

 

“Not a bad point.” Hums Regulus. “Ruthless, and a bit unfair, but not bad. Would you consider the wand to be responsible? Do you think it has a say in its use?”

 

Hmm. Good question. He focuses on the cherry-wand, reaching out with his mind. The response he gets - the very fact that he gets a response, no matter how alien - is fascinating. It feels - old. Old and wise, and more than anything else, hard. “This one does.” He replies with ironclad certainty. “It’s older than me, smarter than me, and worlds more certain than me. It would turn on me before it would let me disgrace ourselves.”

 

“Your pronouns are rebelling.” Says Regulus, voice Suna-dry. “But your point is made. I have to think about it.”

 


 

School uniforms are a different animal altogether. The only shop that has the license to sell them is Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions - a decidedly middle-class establishment, and one that they are all aware Blacks have only visited to buy uniforms and nothing else.

 

The atmosphere is, frankly, stifling. Not because of the store itself - if Itachi wasn’t a Black, he would enjoy it infinitely more than the pretentious twattishness of before. But it’s clear nobody here likes them, they are all borderline afraid of them, and can’t wait to see their backs. The workers are as professional as you could hope, but the young ladies’ hands tremble when it’s time to measurements to be taken.

 

Itachi would consider some attempt to set them at ease if he wasn’t himself drowning in discomfort. He doesn't think himself to be body-shy exactly. That does not mak standing on a stool barely dressed, in front of complete strangers is not damn uncomfortable.

 

The uniforms are ostensibly unmarked - even though everyone and their cat know Sirius Black is headed for Slytherin. There are nine months to go until Hogwarts starts, so the fitting room, at least, is empty but for his skinny self and his brother who is barely keeping his sniggers hidden. Itachi knows his face is frozen in a mask of horror, but there is only so much he can handle.

 

As soon as the fitting is done, they arrange the damn things to be picked up via house-elf, and finally - finally - it’s time to go.

 

 


 

Chapter Text

Practising wanded magic is like nothing he’s ever imagined. Wandless magic - physical enhancement in his case - is polite enough to let him blur the lines between magic and Chakra for his own peace of mind. It’s belief, in the end, willpower, and he has plenty of belief about his Shinobi prowess.

 

Wanded magic is a different animal altogether. First, there is the matter of his wand, and its energy that is strong enough to acknowledge, while too alien to know what to do with. The only thing that keeps him within the loosest sense of progress is that the wand is perfectly capable - and, for now, willing - to join their energies on its own.

 

It’s just - the ‘spell’ aspect of casting makes no sense. The theory is more or less straightforward. Every spell is a miniature ritual - the wand-movements and the incantation, it’s all shorthand. In this, his experience in Ninjutsu is to his benefit. With enough practice and awareness of Chakra flow and movement, it is possible to shave-off hand signs one by one. They’re just crutches, tricks to channel just the right amount of Chakra, combined with precise intent at precise intervals. Spells, as he understands them, are much the same. After enough practise his magic will learn what to do without the crutches. In this, his long experience with meditation and precise body-mastery is to his benefit.

 

His credulity is strained, on the other hand. The whole process is just so - silly. A butchering of Latin, on the other side of wrong. It’s obvious someone at some point thought it to be the funniest thing in the world to twist a perfectly serviceable word into - something. If he wasn’t completely certain the curriculum was designed to be engaging to an eleven-year-old mind, he’d be seriously considering emigrating to a country with a little more common sense. Egypt, for example, he hears excellent things about.

 

Without belief, even his wand can’t make up the difference. If he could, he’d skip Charms altogether for a year or two, until the curriculum took itself a little more seriously.

 

The less said about transfiguration the better. While wizards might think there is something useful in transfiguring mice into teacups, it just seemed like the product of a disturbed mind. That the textbooks explained the effects of a badly done transfiguration could include a furry, twitching, squeaking teacup was enough to send him into a full-blown stupor.

 

Even Regulus couldn’t understand how repulsive the idea is - what unholy hell does he send the mouse into when he transfigures it into a cup. Is it a cup? Is it merely the illusion of a cup? Where does it soul go - do mice even have souls? When it’s halfway between a mouse and a cup - is it alive still? How? Does it breathe? Does its blood circulate? Where are its organs? Do the pain receptors work without a physical brain?

 

Inanimate to animate, alright, the theory more or less makes some sense - it’s not truly alive, it’s a simulacrum of life. An automaton, powered by his magic, which would revert to its original state when he stops feeding it magic.

 

But animate to inanimate is - depraved. Animals think. They feel. They know fear and pain and love. It must be - soul rendering - to be stuck halfway between a mouse and a cup, helpless and afraid. That the Leader of Light is an accomplished transfiguration master doesn’t say good things about this fucking society.

 

(It’s entirely possible Itachi, who has lived the life he had and had his soul fucked with even in death was taking this a little too personally. But the first person who tries to force him to torture the soul of an innocent animal just for fun will find themselves lacking fingers, eyes and a tongue.)

 

He keeps thoughts of bloody murder to himself and focuses on The Plan. Regulus is scheming on his own and had told him firmly to mind his own part of the deal and let him do the politicking.

 

His part of the plan, in this case, is to come up with a sufficiently impressive bit of magic to perform. Regulus is in charge of bullying Grandfather into hosting an event. Then Itachi would perform some suitably impressive feat of magic, cement his place as a prodigy and force Grandfather to take them in.

 

As for the bit of magic, the outline is more or less clear. It has to be sensory magic, something the audience can see or hear or touch. It has to be impressive in execution, not just in deference to his young age. He can’t just do something the adults find trivial, like a conjuration spell. No, no, it has to be something better than they can do, or something they haven’t thought to do.

 

His ‘Shinobi magic’ as they had started calling it is an option. The absolute last fucking option, because he is not going to sacrifice the element of surprise that easily, but it’s an option. Wizards don’t fly unaided, they don’t bother much with enhancing their bodies, or using them in any way other than spell casting and shields.

 

So far, he hasn’t had much luck in the beginner level texts, but he has about six months left, so he’s not too worried. They still live in the London house for the most part, but they barely ever leave their rooms. They visit Castle Black on occasion, but for the most part, they’re left alone.

 


 

A beautiful piece of defensive magic catches Itachi’s eye. It’s - perfect.

 

A charm, unfortunately, but one without any special wand-movements, and with effects that he can wholeheartedly believe in. The Patronus charm.

 

If there is one thing that comes easily to Itachi, it’s a fervent wish to protect someone. Now, a Patronus charm is ‘officially’ performed by keeping a happy memory firmly in your mind and summoning your spirit animal.

 

Load of bullshit, thinks Itachi. For children, maybe a happy memory would be enough. Children barely have the emotional capacity for anything more than the very basic emotions, which they feel very, very strongly. But Itachi is firmly middle-aged, soul-wise, and he knows that if you want a protector, you damn well need to want to protect. And, after a lifetime of Sasuke sprinting headfirst at the strongest monster he can find, he knows very well how strong the fear for another, and a fervent wish to help can be.

 

Regulus has managed to swindle Arcturus and Melania into throwing a ‘farewell’ party for Itachi, to celebrate his going to Hogwarts. More importantly, he has agreed to invite the extended family - his siblings, Cassiopeia, Pollux and Dorea, his daughter Lucretia, Alphard, Cygnus and his brood, nephews Alphard and Cygnus, and grand-nieces, Narcissa and Bellatrix.

 

And the assorted Purebloods - although this time it will be purely ‘in-house’ which means no messy outsiders of the lighter persuasion.

 

Joy of joys - Itachi will have to perform like a show-poodle in front of Lord fucking Riddle who he knows will be laughing at him the entire time.

 

Eyes on the prize, he reminds himself. If you manage to pull this off, you will be free of the vermin who call themselves your parents. Just - focus.

 

The spell itself is not the problem - it’s the magical power. He hasn’t really worked on expanding whatever nebulous part of his body that channels (or produces?) magic. So far, he hadn’t needed to. But the Patronus Charm is exhaustive, meant for adults with grown-up bodies who can handle the strain. Itachi is a scrawny under-fed eleven-year-old.

 

He has about one fair attempt at casting it in him, before he wipes himself out so thoroughly that he can barely summon up the energy to scarf down whatever protein-dense food Kreacher can think of, before clocking out for the day.

 

To increase his magical reserves, he makes a draconian plan. The actual practice of the Patronus charm is limited to once a week. The rest of the time, he divides his time evenly into three parts.

 

Part one is meditation, where he tries to get a handle on his magic, open a line of communication with his wand, and in general works on solidifying concepts in his mind, training his mind to combine thought and feeling into a force of will.

 

Part two is physical power. He’s a firm believer of ‘sound mind in a sound body.” It would be very easy to spend his days meditating and casting and let his body waste away. That is unacceptable. So the second part of his day is spent in elementary Taijutsu, working his way through simple Kata and letting his mind rest from the strenuous morning.

 

Part three is casting. He doesn’t have much magic to spare, but what he has, he uses up every day. He tries to learn the feeling of magic rushing through his body. If he knows is, perhaps he can make the process more efficient.

 

It’s a difficult schedule to follow because it leaves little room for spending with Regulus. Thankfully the plan is Regulus’s idea so the boy doesn’t begrudge him the lack of time. Instead, he studies, plots, and bullies Itachi into ten hours of sleep, schedule or no schedule.

 

Progress is slow, yes, but there’s plenty of time still. Since the party is meant to see Itachi - Sirius - off, it's set for the last Friday before he’s off, August twenty-seventh. It leaves them little wiggle-room, but escaping with their vault-keys and Kreacher should still be possible. With enough incentive and some fast-talking Itachi is hopeful he can negotiate an Asylum with the Goblin Nation if it came to that.

 

With that in mind, the deadline is fairly close, but still far enough to be doable. And either way, there is no sense in hurrying - he’s already working as hard as he physically can. He could perhaps cut down on sleep, which would see him crash long before it’s time to perform. No, for now, he’s doing everything he can.

 

There is dignity in that. Worth. Pride.

 


 

He manages to produce a full-bodied Patronus about two weeks before the party.

 

It takes the form the Susanō.

 

What.

 


 

“Look at it this way, brother.” Says Regulus weakly, breaking the stunned silence. “It’s definitely going to impress everyone.”

 

“You must not use it.” Says Kreacher firmly. “Young Master, please. You must not reveal your strength. You summoned a shade of a God to do your bidding. Many would do much to bind that strength, to have it under their thumb.”

 

“The thought has crossed my mind.” Says Itachi, massaging his temples firmly, trying to knead his migraine into submission. “But we’re out of options here.”

 

“We run.” Says Kreacher, a note of hysteria entering his voice. “Better we run, and you are thought to be a wild child, escaping their cruel family, than for the entire world to want to use you.”

 

Fair point.

 

“Fair point,” he says. “Regulus, thoughts?”

 

“I say you use it.” He says firmly. “You are now at best Heir presumptive of House of Black. If you get named Heir Black you get protection. Family Magic will be yours to command - or at least parts of it. Legally, you’d be more or less untouchable. Politically, everybody would be less inclined to play you falsely, and more inclined to simply court you to their side, fair and square. I say use it, play into the myth of a prodigy, and reap the protections and not just the risks. You are already known to be a genius, people will already want to use you, this way you get the protections and not just the risks.”

 

“Another fair point.”

 

“Also,” adds Regulus. “The Patronus Charm is generally thought to be the epitome of Light magic. It's not, of course, it’s very much Dark magic, but the masses believe what they will. It will actually improve your image if you show to be able to cast such a famously light charm.”

 

“Kreacher?”

 

“All truths.” He admits. “And if you did not have a God-guardian, I would agree. But nobody has such. To have the Father of Storms as your Patronus, it is unthinkable.”

 

“Would anyone even know what Susanō-no-Mikoto represents?” Asks Itachi, with genuine interest. He was shocked by the appearance of the Susanō - but honestly, not as much as the rest of them. His Sharingan-summon was considerably more dangerous, a flaming figure with an unblockable sword and the ability to seal away souls for all eternity. This Patronus-Susanō is bathed in white-blue flames, yes, but it’s much tamer, giving off none of the furious screaming anger that he’s come to expect.

 

“All elves would.” Replies Kreacher instantly. “As well as any with a drop of creature-blood in their lines. Father of Storms might not be our own, but we know of it - as they know of Lady Hectate.”

 

“How aware would they be?” Prompts Regulus reasonably. “Because if they have a creature twenty generations back, they wouldn’t be aware of what their heritage tells them. They would just be wary, which is the point of the exercise anyway.”

 

Kreacher shakes his head. “I do not know. You might be right. But you might be building a pedestal for yourself from which there is no climbing down.”

 

“Give me a moment to think.”

 

He closes his eyes and settles for a brief meditating session.

 

What are the stakes here?

 

“The Patronus is almost impossible to change.” He says after a few minutes. “I would have had to use it before long either way. Whatever significance of the shape, the infamy is inevitable. It’s better to use it to our benefit. We use it.”

 

Kreacher bares his teeth. “Fine. But I will be there. Mark my words, the clever wizards will know the significance of it, and you will not live it down.”

 

Itachi sighs, and snags the elf into a hug. “It would happen now, or it would happen in two years. This way I can buy our safety. That’s enough.”

 

Regulus eels his way into the embrace. “It has to be.”

 


 

Chapter Text

For once both Black brothers take the upcoming party seriously. They are not alone in this. Their Grandparents take it very seriously indeed, but so does the rest of Wizarding Nobility. The Event is bafflingly politically charged.

 

Itachi - still regrettably entrenched in the Shinobi mindset - tries halfheartedly to follow Regulus’s explanations. It is not to be. Focusing on petty bullshit is difficult. He grasps the general picture of things, but the nitty-gritty, the small petty grievances that somehow drive the whole thing - they escape him.

 

While he fiercely misses the eidetic memory, he doesn’t miss the morbid insanity. (The obsessive tendencies are, interestingly, still there, but Kreacher assures him that is a well-known and accepted Black trait. Blacks and Uchiha, he’s come to understand, are more or less the same people.)

 

He adapts as best he can, and struggles to take into consideration he will simply - forget facts that might in the future prove to be important. He doesn’t think himself to be unintelligent per se, but Blacks were certainly bred for other qualities. Magical power, intuition and creativity mostly.

 

(Eidetic memory was not a trait a good social engineer would choose, if the goal was to create functional human beings. Doubly so, if the goal was to create exceptional warriors. The weight and precision of Sharingan-memories crush everyone, sooner rather than later. The lucky few manage to glue themselves back together into something resembling a person. Very lucky, very few. If the Uchiha were smarter, they would work at consciously breeding out some of the more mentally damaging aspects of their bloodline. Unfortunately, most Uchiha considered their eyes to be their defining characteristic, and wouldn’t even consider alterations to it. Their biology followed where their cursed eyes lead. Over generations, they had become very adapted to storing and accessing large amounts of information - as scans of their brains showed.)

 

They are both free to dress as they would - within confines of good taste of course. With this as with most things people-related, he fobs it off to Regulus and Kreacher and continues training his magic. He can comfortably cast the Patronus and remain standing, which was a legitimate concern. Anything more than that - even so much as a Lumos charm - would wipe him out.

 

“I am not going to call you again, ‘Tachi,” says Regulus, sweet as poison. “I will just let you be late to the party we asked Grandfather to organize.”

 

Itachi hums in acknowledgement and gives in. There will be not a moment of peace left. It’s Friday, already, the semester starts on fucking Wednesday, and while it feels like he has done nothing but prepare mindlessly for a full year, he’s still managed to leave everything to the last fucking moment. Amaterasu preserve them.

 

“I’m yours, little brother.” He says. “Command me as you will.”

 

Regulus beams, wide and innocent. “Excellent. Let’s start with trousers, shall we? I was thinking -”

 

He listens to his brother’s commands with half an ear and tries to soak in as much of the uncomplicated affection while he still can. Even if they somehow manage to pull this fool stunt off, the result will still be the two brothers separated for months, and Regulus left with Kreacher.

 

“I fucking hate this,” tumbles out of his mouth entirely outside of his control. “I hate being sent away, I hate having to scheme and plot and bleed and have such a paltry fucking result to show for it. I hate the thought of not having you near me. I hate - this.”

 

Regulus freezes, shoulders tensing. His back is to Itachi, so he doesn’t see his expression, but since it takes him a long sequence of heartbeats to turn around, it was nothing good.

 

“I -” he whirls around and tackles him as best he can, tucking his head into the crook of Itachi’s neck.

 

Fuck, he’s such an asshole. “I’m - I’m sorry brother.” He whispers. “I did not intend to upset you, I just - I don’t know what I wanted. It doesn’t matter.”

 

“Shut up, ‘Tachi. It’s healthy to cry.” Hiccups Regulus. “I read about it.”

 

“Fair enough.” He sighs. “I wish I could - I think I cried when, when Atlas died. But before that, I don’t even know. When Shisui died, probably.”

 

“You need to read more. Not just textbooks and war-strategies, but novels. Fiction. It would do wonders for your sense of perspective.”

 

Itachi smooths a fond hand down his brother’s back, focusing on the frantic tempo of his heart, on the laboured breathing. “My sense of perspective is just fine. It’s often what keeps me going. The certainty that things can get worse is a valuable thing to have.”

 

Regulus warbles a wet laugh. “It certainly can. You haven’t murdered a person yet, and you’re almost pushing twelve. You were, what, in the elite assassination squad by now.”

 

“Pretty much.” He is surprisingly unbothered with the mentioning of ANBU. “You say it like it’s a bad thing, but the two years in ANBU were probably the best I’ve lived back then, discounting the toddler years. I had friends, there, comrades that watched my back. It was nice.”

 

“And you just had to murder strangers gruesomely to earn that friendship.” 

 

If only that was the only thing, he thinks grimly. Talk of murder is one thing, but there is a whole lot of less savoury things one might ask of a pretty little thing like Itachi, who would have - and have had - done anything and everything for his Hokage.

 

“I agree, you know. I know that life was horrendously fucked up. But - as I said. That only makes me appreciate this world more.”

 

“We need to leave in ten minutes, silly children.” Says Kreacher from the side. “You need to get ready.”

 

“Alright,” sniffles Regulus, and detaches from his spot under Itachi’s jaw. “Let’s go. Tonight is a piece of cake. I’ve organized everything. You just need to be you and amaze everything with your God-summoning charm, and a lot of our worries will be solved.”

 

A lot but not all. Tends to be the way of the world.

 

“Now, children.” Kreacher’s voice cracks like a whip, causing both of them to scramble up.

 

Yeah, okay.

 

 


 

 

The two of them - dressed and ready only by grace of Kreacher’s magic - wait for their Grandparents to pick them up.

 

Regulus - or Kreacher - really does have a head for fashion, it has to be said. Two brothers are dressed head to toe in dark, smokey grey, Uchiha influence subtle but visible. The collar is dyed in a telling, daring shade of indigo, as is the arrangement of the robes - a wide outer-robe worn open, with loose sleeves ending just above their wrists. The blend of silk and linen works well, as the fabric is both exquisitely soft, and with enough texture to hold the long, simple lines to the best effect. Both of them put their hair up in a simple bun - slightly too feminine to be the norm, but not so out-there to be inappropriate. Underneath the robes, they opted for narrow legging-like trousers dyed the same, dark indigo worn under a longish tunic, from a fabric woven in subtle rhomboids in a shade of grey only slightly lighter than the contrasting colour. The leggings are tucked into soft leather boots. All in all, the only truly eccentric thing - other than the foreign influence - is the fact that their outfits are identical. Other than a small reduction in size in Regulus’s case, the outfits could well have been charmed duplicates.

 

Its well beyond his ken, what exactly the message here is, and who they’re sending it to, but even he knows a statement when he sees one.

 

Lady Melania comes the closest she’s ever come to expressing an unladylike show of emotion. In the very last moment, she manages to turn her snort into a tinkle of laughter. “Oh my, what lovely outfits. Regulus, darling, I suppose this is your doing?”

 

“Merry meet, my Lady.” Regulus’s grin is a calculated mix of politeness and irreverence. “Indeed it is. My brother, Goddess love him, would wear only the one thing if he could if it were comfortable enough.”

 

Fair.

 

“You certainly look memorable.” Says Arcturus, observing them keenly. “Which was the point, I take it.”

 

“I assume so,” Itachi replies. “I wasn’t involved.” He breaks off, suddenly feeling uncertain about this. Did Regulus - mention that Itachi will be doing magic, wanded magic, in front of all these people? Surely he at least hinted at it?

 

“My Lord,” he says in the end, caution audible in his voice. “About tonight -”

 

“No,” interrupts Arcturus, a thoughtful but content expression making him look years younger. “Tell me nothing. I need the deniability. I am not so old to be unable to see the rough shape of what you have planned. I am looking forward to the show, as well as the discussion afterwards.”

 

Oh good. Itachi sends a small but honest smile at the older man. They’re all more or less on the same page here.

 

“Do not worry yourself too much,” Murmurs Arcturus. “Your efforts are to be commended, and being proactive is something I would encourage. I didn’t do so with my children, and you two are paying the cost of that.”

 

A confused rush of emotions courses through Itachi - gratitude, frustration, joy, rage. He swallows it down, keeps his face more or less placid, and lets the storm pass. Arcturus is content to let him, and they spend a long couple of minutes in complete silence.

 

“Two minutes left,” calls the Lady. “Cassie sent confirmation, everybody is there, even Orion and Walburga. On the allies-front, Flint, Carrow, LeStrange, Malfoy, Nott, Rosier and of course, Riddle.”

 

Showtime.

 

 


 

 

Regulus formal act has improved by leaps and bounds. Itachi might have success in menacing as openly as he dares, but Regulus went a different route. With the aid of Lady Melania, he has crafted a flawlessly - forbiddingly - polite persona. Lady Melania’s influence is still apparent in the flow of impersonal good manners, but those details are easily ironed out.

 

As the guests of honour, they walk down the staircase, to low, polite applause.

 

The ballroom is decorated in grey and white, fitting amusingly well with their outfits. It’s far too minimal and austere to have anything as plebeian as a theme, but there is beauty everywhere you look, for all that it is severe. A peach blossom here, a magical rose there. Fairies fly high above, and the music is accompanied by subtle visual effects, barely-visible bursts of colour and abstracts shapes emphasizing the notes.

 

It’s the height of elegance, and Itachi’s inner aesthete shivers in delight.

 

He knows better than to try escaping Lady Melania’s well-manicured claws, so he lets himself be led from Black to Black, meeting the family he should have, by right, met years ago. Alas, he is not without blame, here. The family stayed away only because Itachi declared war on Orion and Walburga. They kept their distance, not taking sides, as long as they could have. Now that Itachi - through Regulus - through Arcturus - forced their hands, they will no longer get to occupy the comfortable, fence-sitting position.

 

The Blacks look eerily alike - off-puttingly alike, even. Which is not to say they are not memorable, because they are. The women, especially, are a sight to behold.

 

Cassiopeia - ‘call me Aunt Cassie darling’ - wears blood-red without a care, and leads the young man she brought to the event with the sort of cruel amusement where it’s not clear who, exactly, the target of her ire is. It could be her family, that she’s subtly insulting by bringing her latest, barely legal, lover. It could just as easily been the young man because being thrown into this particular shark-pit is a cruel, cruel thing to do. He could be a shark in puppy clothing. It’s not impossible. Just doubtful.

 

Then there is Dorea, who brought her husband, a handsome wiry man of Potter stock. Lady Dorea Black is a majestic beauty, the polar opposite of Cassiopeia in almost every way. The only thing the sisters have in common is the way they wear self-assuredness almost off-handedly. Like it doesn’t even occur to them to be anything but forbiddingly confident. Both women are visions of beauty, but starkly different types. Where Cassiopeia was pushing the limits of what is possible to insinuate without see-through fabric and perhaps a whip, Dorea wore a floor-length dress-robe, heavy dark-green satin falling to the floor without accentuating her curves in any way. Where Cassiopeia’s lipstick matched the blood-red of her dress, trademark Black curls tumbling to the small of her back, Dorea wore no makeup, and her straightened hair was tied back into a low pony-tail.

 

Interesting, and very much visually appealing, addition to the clutch of Blacks is Charlus Potter. Itachi has, to date, not met any Potters - a supremely wealthy merchant family that was only a couple of hundred years too late to be considered an Ancient and Noble House. He’s read about them, plenty of them. The P’s dominate the potions industry - Princes, Potters, Peverells. Quite a few Hit-wizards were of Potter stock, as well as a fair few law-wizards. If Blacks were known for their wildness and beauty (and insanity), Potters were known for their ingenuity, quickness of mind and fearless risk-taking.

 

All those traits were on clear display this night, as esteemed Lord Charlus Potter came to a Black event with a pleasant smile, dressed in a deep, Burgundy red, outlined by burnished gold, flaunting his Gryffindor allegiance in the nest of snakes.

 

The only male Black, not including his own little family, of interest was Alphard Black, Arcturus’s brother. There were many things to note about the wizard, who obviously relished in standing out in the crows as much as possible. Part of that was undoubtedly the attire. Instead of dress-robes in delicate fabrics and exquisite cuts, Alphard fucking Black looks like a pirate. For all that Itachi knows, he might be a pirate in truth. His outfit consists of leather, mostly, in blacks and reds, kept together by magic and determination. His black locks were coarse, he sported a beard (!) and a surprising amount of flashy, gold jewellery. All of which would be enough to make him stand out in this particular crowd quite enough. If it weren’t for his date.

 

His date is a gorgeous young man, sharp-featured and dressed in traditional Japanese robes. Asian features were - startlingly familiar to Itachi. They weren’t exactly Konohan, but miles closer than anyone else he’d seen in the world so far. The black hair, the raised cheekbones, straight, narrow nose, the elegant mouth. The young man dressed in a deep purple robe with daring orange accents could have been an Uchiha cousin.

 

His fascination with the man - Daigo Kioshi - is obvious, and Alphard - ‘Uncle Alph, lad’ - thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world. Itachi has known abstractly that sexual prejudice just wasn’t a thing in the Wizarding World, but it never really hit home. For this crowd, it wasn’t the fact that Alphard brought a man as his date, that was shocking. It was that the two are decidedly unmarried, and have been for years.

 

The only other people he noted with any degree of interest were Cygnus Black, who he noted for the odious, twisted sneer that was its own warning, and his two daughters, each escorted by a gentlewizard of their own. 

 

Narcissa Black, all of sixteen, stood next to her betrothed, Heir Lucius Malfoy who was himself only seventeen. There was some scandal there, that Itachi paid precisely no mind to. A betrothal was broken under suspicious conditions, and another was offered as compensation. Whatever it was, it happened a few years back, and everyone seems to be perfectly content.

 

Bellatrix LeStrange, nee Black, on the other hand, took to Cassiopeia’s school of beauty. Her husband of some years, Rodolphus LeStrange stood next to her, not the tiniest bit enthralled by the vision of voluptuous beauty on his arm.

 

“Pay attention.” Hisses Regulus from his side. “Cygnus betrothed his daughters pretty much upon birth. More importantly, Bellatrix married the same day she graduated from Hogwarts. Rumour is that he is planning to do the same to Narcissa.”

 

He keeps his posture loose but catches Cygnus’s eye with some deliberation. The unspoken rules about daughters of a well-to-do House were strong and clear: betrothals were one thing, but marriage was as a matter of rule postponed at least a decade, to allow the witch to establish an independent career comfortably. Daughters of a Noble House should have at least one Mastery to their names before they entertained the notion of marriage, somewhere around the age of thirty-five and fifty. To do anything other than that is to insinuate - not at all subtly - that the Lady was either not capable of independence, or that there are indiscretions that require a speedy marriage.

 

Cygnus Black either had supremely promiscuous daughters - unlikely - or a supremely vindictive mind - much more likely considering his older daughter’s husband. If Rodolphus LeStrange was moved by the female form in any way, Itachi would eat his shirt.

 

“That is not an ally.” He says quietly. “Does Grandfather know?”

 

“He must. Everyone knows. I know and am nine.”

 

Izanami, but this is a complication he does not need.

 

“We will monitor the situation.” He says. “I will speak to both women, and Grandfather when our position is more stable.”

 

Speaking of making his situation more stable. Where are - ah. There. His soon to be ex-guardians are chatting to Lord Yaxley, pretending with all they have that nothing at all is out of the ordinary. Considering the number of vultures sniffing about them Itachi is mildly impressed. He didn’t think Orion had the presence of mind for such a robust facade.

 

As for the other Dark Purebloods, they are more or less content to remain in the corner for now. His eyes catch, as they so often do, on Lord Riddle. The man took the corner position and looks to be all sorts of bored.

 

“My Lord, I see Lord Riddle,” says Itachi in a deliberately fairly, casual voice, pitched loud enough to carry slightly, but not enough to be vulgar about it. “I have to pay my respects. Regulus, Lord Flint is about to make a run for the Floo.”

 

Helpless to stop him, and tangibly amused by the blatant theatre, Grandfather bids them go greet the Lords. He bows and nods to the throng of Nobles standing between himself and Lord Riddle, murmuring the formulaic greetings with half a mind, and accepting their nods in return.

 

“Merry meet, My Lord,” He bows low, adding a slight flourish for effect, letting some of his irreverence glint in his eyes playfully. “Allow me to personally thank you for coming. I admit I did not expect you to - not for something as petty as Black Family Drama.”

 

Lord Riddle looks - well, like a wolf among show-dogs, to be trite about it. Dressed in a form-fitting robe this side of severe, black hair artfully tossed, there is nothing in him that isn’t a strange duality of hyper-sexual masculine energy, while at the same time giving off a disinterested, almost asexual vibe. The man’s magic unfurls slightly, vibrating unconsciously, and Itachi’s shivers in delight. They both notice, and they’re both good enough actors to not show their interest at this development. Itachi’s magic is dark, then? Good to know.

 

“Young Sirius,” nods Riddle. “I wouldn’t have missed it. I have it on good authority that this event has generated more rumour than the Malfoy Yule Ball. Congratulations on your unexpected rise in social market value.”

 

Itachi huffs out a gentle laugh, eyes scanning the room surreptitiously. Ah - there. Walburga Black has just turned this way. He adjusts his stance subtly, so his profile is perfectly visible, and looks up at the tall Lord - just about twice his size - with a guileless smile on his face.

 

A sharp smile pulls up Riddles smile until teeth poke through. “Now, now, little Black. Are you using me to score a point?”

 

Itachi blinks at the Lord with polite confusion, before letting cruelty shade his eyes. “Indeed I am. I would apologize, but I doubt you mind. Instead, I will offer recompense. What might you ask of a humble Heir, for your tolerance of a little petty amusement?”

 

If he’s not very wrong, and he rarely is, he’s judged his approach well enough. A little flattery, a little cynicism, and more honesty than the Lord is used to at these events. All true, all genuine, which just makes it easier.

 

“Slughorn is going to have his hands full with you, little Black.” Hums Riddle, blue eyes glinting with - something. Amusement, perhaps, but also calculation. “But you are very amusing. I will allow it this time. In return, well. I’m sure I will think of something.”

 

“An unsupervised, unrestricted access to the Black Library for a full day.” Throws out Itachi. He might not have the head for politics, but he values his skin too much to be in debt to Lord fucking Riddle.

 

Riddle freezes for a hundredth of a second, which is a truer reaction than most. “You don’t have the authority to offer any such thing.”

 

Itachi tilts his head, mimicking innocence. “Officially, not yet. Unofficially, my House Elf, Kreacher, has full access to the Black Library. I will ask him to apparate you inside and outside when you’re done. The books are charmed to remain, but unless you run into my Grandfather there - which never happens, since he has his elves bring books to him, you’re fine.”

 

Riddle blinks again and nods. “You have a deal, little Black. Although, someone needs to teach you how to negotiate. You don’t just offer the most valuable thing you have.”

 

This man would have made a good Shinobi, Itachi thinks. He’s got the right predispositions. Which makes it - interesting. Itachi’s first solution always ends up being murder. Thankfully he’s got his family to hold him back and keep him from outright villainy. Does Riddle have someone like that? The Rosier Heir that gazes at him with boundless adoration, perhaps?

 

“The library is far from the most valuable thing I have.” He says. “It’s just the most valuable thing you would accept, without being suspicious about it.”

 

The corner of Riddle’s lip twitches up minutely. “Alright, little Black, you’ve made your point, you’ve driven Walburga up the wall, you can leave me be now. You have things to do tonight, I believe, that don’t involve pestering me.”

 

Itachi surpasses a grimace just barely too slow to hide from Riddle.

 

“I might be stalling.” He admits. He really should not be so frank with Riddle, the objectively most dangerous person he knows, but something in his brain wants the man to like him. Much like he felt once for Sakumo or Orochimaru or Nagato. It’s fucked up, but it is as it is. “A part of the ‘plan’,” he puts extra emphasis on plan, “is for me to perform magic obvious enough and powerful enough that Lord Black will have no choice but to name me Heir.”

 

“Oh?” Riddle’s eyes sparkle with malicious amusement. “And will you?”

 

Itachi sighs barely audibly. “I think I will, although adult Wizards are difficult to understand. The magic is fine, it’s the performing part that’s annoying.”

 

“You’re a very amusing child.” Lord Riddle decides after a moment’s pause. “Now, off with you. Go dazzle us with your magic.”

 

Itachi squints at the Lord for half a moment, before a slow smile tugs his lips into a crooked, honest line.

 

“You think I can’t do it.” He feels his smile widening until his teeth are visible. “You think I will humiliate myself utterly, by sending some coloured sparks in the air.”

 

“Yes,” Riddle says, voice conveying both certainty and anticipation. “You seem to be a capable child, but with no real instruction and an unsettled core, there is nothing I can think you could do that would impress Lord Flint, never mind myself. I don’t know why you decided to compete in this arena, but I will enjoy your humiliation nonetheless.”

 

For some reason, this sends sparks of anticipatory glee down Itachi’s spine. He was dreading the spectacle, but now he wants nothing more than to wipe that smug, mean grin off of Riddle’s face.

 

“Thank you, my Lord.” He almost sing-songs. “Please, after I am finished, don’t leave without allowing me the chance to speak to you again.”

 

“Nobody can fault Blacks for confidence.” Drawls Riddle. “As you wish, child.”

 

“Thank you, my Lord. Merry part.”

 

 


 

 

“Regulus,” he says. “Go inform Grandfather. Part two is a-go.”

 

“Really?” Whispers Regulus. “I thought I’d have to drag you to do it.”

 

“Lord fucking Riddle looks forward to my embarrassing display of first-year magic.” He can tell by the widening of Regulus’s eyes and the whispers of the onlookers that his smile is unhinged.

 

A small smile, similarly disturbing if a great deal more contained lights up Regulus’s face. “Oh, oh, that is. That is delicious. I do hope he has some creature blood in him.”

 

“It would not surprise me. There is something - dangerous about the man. Creature inheritance would explain it.”

 

Regulus smirks before smoothing over his expression and straightening his posture.

 

“I will wait by the staircase.” He tells him.

 

 


 

 

“Please, if I may have your attention for a moment.” Grandfather’s voice is subtly amplified by a subtle Sonorus charm, enough to be heard easily without being overbearing. The light buzz of conversation quietens, and all eyes turn to him.

 

“As you’re aware, this little soirée was organized to celebrate my grandson’s first term at Hogwarts. He has asked me for the honour of addressing you with a few words, to show his gratitude at your graciousness.”

 

Itachi, standing a few paces on the Lord’s right, in a conveniently empty part of the room, bows briefly. He needs no charm to be heard, not with the wonderful acoustics in the room, and Fugakus lessons on voice projection.

 

“Thank you, Lord Black. My lords and ladies, my Grandfather has said it better than I could hope to - so I will not repeat his words. In my preparations for the coming year, I have come across a pleasant bit of magic I thought might provide some amusement. Please, allow me to demonstrate, as a small token of my gratitude. Should it bring you a moment’s joy, I will have achieved my objective perfectly.”

 

He acknowledges the polite nods, but he waits for Riddle to incline his head mockingly before he pulls out his wand. The, by now blessedly familiar, state of determination is easy to bring up, taking but a moment of focus.

 

“Expecto Patronum.”

 

The familiar enormous figure of Susanō-no-Mikoto materializes flawlessly. He spends a long moment basking in the shocked intakes of breath, but his eyes are trained at his protector. It is, objectively, a striking conjuration. The Patronus matches his Susanō from Before perfectly. The wisps of flame, the giant sword, the sturdy armour and a snarling, fanged face, his Patronus is a thing to behold.

 

It’s tempting to check Riddle’s reaction first, but as always his eyes go first to Regulus. His brother is the physical embodiment of smug pride. Any thought of masks and pretences is forgotten. A happy young boy of nine beams at his older brother. He sends him a small smile, before switching to the second most important person in the room

 

Arcturus Black stares at his Patronus with a mix of awe and fear, cataloguing the ten-meter-high conjuration.

 

He allows himself a moment to close his eyes and exhale in relief. It is certain. Lord Black will not let them go now. By this time tomorrow, he will be Heir Black, and Regulus and Kreacher will be safe in the confines of Castle Black.

 

He opens his eyes, and petty glee fights with equally petty glee - Walburga or Riddle, Walburga or Riddle -

 

Riddle.

 

He looks up and finds the electric-blue eyes unerringly. Riddle is impressively blank, but Itachi cannot find a shred of earlier gleeful schadenfreude. He sends him a happy, cheeky smirk, and basks in the answering frown. Point made and acknowledged, asshole.

 

He looks around the room and takes in the reactions. Not a single adult in the room is unaffected. Some - Malfoy, notably, but also Rosier, Yaxley and interestingly Flint have a healthy dose of apprehension in their eyes. Creature blood, most likely. Not one of them has averted his eyes from Itachi’s ghostly protector, so he still has a little time to observe them without notice. Alphard is wary, tensed in a warriors stance, but his lover, oh his lover is stunned. There is first-hand knowledge in the frozen expression, not an instinctive fear. Interesting, and important. Remember to organize a meeting with the two.

 

The rest of his family has interesting reactions too. Walburga and Orion have nothing but hatred in their eyes, lips pulled back into sneers. Dorea and her husband though look both disturbed and impressed in equal measure. Cassiopeia, Bellatrix and her husband look greedy, while Narcissa manages to look a bit bored. Surprised, impressed, but nowhere near as much as the rest.

 

The drain on his magic is about to become - problematic, so with a bow and conscious stemming of the flow of magic, he ends the spell.

 

“Thank you, my Lords. I hope you were at least slightly amused by my Patronus. My brother and I thank you for your time and attention. Apologies again for interrupting your conversation.”

 

 


 

 

Arcturus hunts him down first. “Congratulations, grandson.” He murmurs. “I don’t know how you managed it, and I don’t want to. Either way, you’ve made your point. This evening will be spoken of in Japan by the morrow.”

 

He pauses for a moment, before continuing. “That was - that was not one of ours?”

 

Itachi hums noncommittally, uncertain. Ah why not, by this point. “My Patronus takes the shape of Susanō-no-Mikoto, Father of Storms. I thought it an - interesting development.”

 

“Indeed.” Says Arcturus. The older man is still shaken, although speedily pulling himself back together. “You and your brother will sleep here, tonight. We have important things to discuss tomorrow.”

 

“Yes.” Breathes Itachi. “Yes, we do. Thank you, Lord Black.”

 

Arcturus nods, mask almost perfectly back in place. “I will go inform your parents. Please, try not to terrify your guests any further than you already have.”

 

“Of course, Lord Black.”

 

He walks in the direction of his brother before he’s wailed by Dorea and Potter.

 

“Grand-nephew.” Greets the Lady. “That was quite a display.”

 

“Thank you, Lady Potter.” He smiles at her with all the innocence he has in him. “Did you like it, Lord Potter?” He can’t help but add.

 

Shrewd brown eyes bear into him for a moment, before easing up. “It was certainly memorable. Any Patronus would be extraordinary from an eleven-year-old, but yours is - improbably rare.”

 

“Thank you, my Lord.” He nods and looks at him curiously. Lord Potter looks like there is something he would like to add.

 

“My Heir, James. He is starting Hogwarts too this year.” He blurts out in the end.

 

Is this - networking? How bizarre.

 

“I will be sure to introduce myself, then.” He says with a pretty smile.

 

Dorea looks at her husband fondly if a bit helplessly. The man is awful at this.

 

“Do so,” she says. “I will mention you to him when I see him next. It would do me good to see the next generation of the Black-Potter alliance.”

 

He looks at her with a slight bit of dubiousness. There is no Black-Potter alliance. There is only Dorea, the apple of her brother’s eye, and the most formidable Curse-breaking specialist in Britain, who decided she will marry her love come hell or high water.

 

“As you say, Lady Potter.” He settles on. “Please excuse me, a respected Lord is leaving soon, and I must pay my respects.”

 

“Of course,” the Lady nods, echoed by her husband.

 

He weaves through the Lords and Ladies, nodding absently, but this time his path to Riddle is nowhere near as obstructed.

 

“My Lord.” He greets with a wide, cheeky smile. “What is your verdict - abject humiliation?”

 

“No, indeed not, little Black.” Hums the Lord. There is something in his eyes that brings Itachi pause, sobering him slightly. Did he - miscalculate? Was the Lord offended by Itachi’s candour?

 

Slightly tensing, he takes a small step back from the man, mind whirling. What could he have done?

 

Blue eyes snap to the movement, and the air thickens even further. Deliberately distributing his weight, he tenses his muscles prepared to - run away - run - run -

 

Blue eyes clear, and the tension - lessens. Which is all well and good, but that was magic-version of KI, he’s sure of it, and it won’t be as easy to come down from that high.

 

Riddle takes in the tension, caution and everything about Itachi’s posture that screams he’s poised to run.

 

“I - apologize, my Lord,” Itachi says in low, halting tones. “I meant no offence.”

 

Riddle softens his expression - false - and his posture - false - and twists his lips into a charming smile - false.

 

“No need. I was not offended. Your Patronus merely caught me off-guard.”

 

Itachi nods slowly, trying and failing at smoothing out the tangible tension in his frame. The closest he can come is to set his shoulders back into a loose, ready position, and redistribute his weight to the balls of his feet.

 

Riddle’s charming smile tightens, growing strained. “Truly, Black. You’ve my honest congratulations.”

 

Sure, asshole, of course.

 

Riddle wipes off the ridiculous smile, presumably having figured out Itachi is not that suicidally gullible, and his face shifts into a semi-neutral state of calculation.

 

“I would like to renegotiate our deal from before. Don’t trouble yourself with getting official or unofficial access to Castle Black. Instead, I want one event, to be thrown when it suits you, in Castle Black, in my honour.”

 

Itachi can almost hear his muscles creak, as he systematically forces to unclench. It hurts, of course, but the pain is grounding. Thankful for the long sleeves, he tucks his arms inside, where the Lord won’t see them shake from the adrenaline crash. Keeping his jaw still is hard enough. Fuck, but he could do with a calming potion if he wasn’t too paranoid to try his hand at mind-altering substances.

 

“Note that I am in no way saying no.” He says. His voice could be less thin and croaky, but it works and it doesn’t crack, and that’s good enough for now. “But what type of event? Even as Heir, I would be under some constraint, you understand. Some of the more - exuberant - gatherings would be impossible to organize here.”

 

Riddle pauses for a moment, looking him over. His magic ripples, as if amused. “I am not asking to host a revel at Castle Black, no.” He says fairly mockingly. “I am both shocked you would think such of me, and that you even know what revels are. Aren’t you approximately four years old?”

 

Izanami, but Itachi is pathetic. The deliberate return to earlier camaraderie shouldn’t work - he knows he’s being manipulated. But it works. He finally loses the last of his tension, and his head clears a little. Riddle’s good at this.

 

“The Black Library in the London house is - highly specialized. I - I admit I assumed revels were something of the norm, with the, ah, select few Pureblood families.” Not a word of a lie. The books and journals wrote so extensively of intensely perverse festivals, where anything went, from physical to magical pleasure, and most everything in between.

 

“They are not.” The note of mocking in Riddle’s voice is perhaps the most honest emotion he’s showed in the past several minutes. “You might consider the validity of your sources. To get back to the matter at hand, I would host a purely political event. After tonight, an event hosted by the House of Black will be the place where everybody wants to be. Plainly put, I want that kind of social prestige.”

 

“Done.” Agrees Itachi. “It would be highly impolitic of Grandfather to host an event naming me the Heir since his son will be the one supplanted. Nevertheless, unofficially, it’s what everybody will probably consider it to be. If time is of the essence, and you don’t mind that shadow over it, the very next Black event will have you as the guest of honour.”

 

Riddle considers it for a moment, before humming. “I will contact you when I decide.”

 

“Very well. With my apologies, my Lord, I do have to excuse myself. There are still anxious guests to speak to. Merry part.”

 

“Merry part.” Nods Riddle.

 

He tries to ignore the weight of Riddle’s attention as he walks away. His gamble with the Patronus may have netted him the Heirship, but the gamble with Riddle is so far only resulted in losses on his side.

 

He needs to get better at this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When he was very young, about two years of age, and his parents still had the heart to live and love and hope, his father told him a tale. Well - not really. Uchiha parents traditionally wove gentle illusions, both to get the child used to such things, and to enhance the experience and underline the message. Fugaku, Konoha’s premier Genjutsu Master, brought stories to life like no other. The story went like this.

 

There was once a young carp, living in the shallow part of a large lake. He lived a happy and charmed life, listened to the wisdom of his parents and had many brothers and sisters he loved very much. One day, a sea-gull dove and dove, and almost had his brother in its beak. But the young carp was faster and smarter. He pushed his brother out of the way and they both swam away to safety. All the carp congratulated him on his bravery. Only the old, wise carp noted. Luck played a part, young one. You must not lay claim to Gods’ grace.

 

Some time has passed, and the young carp grew bigger and stronger. His courage was true but so was his pride. One day, as they were swimming in the shallow waters, a house-cat dropped from the tree, ready to eat his friend. The young carp jumped out of the water and slapped the cat with its tail. Before the cat could make sense of this, the three carp quickly swam away. All the carp laughed and cheered, but the old, wise carp warned. You had no business swimming in shallow waters, young one. You must not tempt the Gods’ wrath.

 

Time passed once more, and the young carp was no longer young, but a large, strong fish in its prime. It was known to be the strongest, bravest, most honourable carp in the lake. But then, one day a bear lumbered in from the forest, hungry from his long sleep. All the carp franticly started to swim away, but the strong, brave carp said no. No, I am strong, and I am brave, and I fight to protect my family. Surely the Gods will grant me victory. With knowledge of his righteous cause, he swam towards the bear and jumped up, certain that the Gods will grant him the strength to defeat this foe.

 

Shlick, went the sound of claws piercing the brave carp’s body. Crunch, went the teeth, tearing into its flesh. Roar, went the bear, happy with how easily he had found his meal.

 

Think, my son, Fugaku would murmur to his young son. You will be strong, one day, you will be brave, but there are always stronger, braver men out there. You must always be respectful of your opponent’s strength. The strength of your belief will only take you so far. There is honour in bravery, but not in arrogance. The Gods do not reward hubris, but humility.

 


 

The atmosphere in Number twelve, Grimmauld Place, London, is thick and foreboding. The air smells of smoke and the silence whispers of danger.

 

Every single one of his instincts flares up. “Kreacher,” whispers Itachi. “Take us to our rooms.”

 

Is he - should he have done this? There are valuable things there, things he is reluctant to leave behind in their move to Castle Black. Most importantly, Regulus’s notes are in their rooms. Notes, texts, and priceless childish pictures.

 

These people will take nothing else from us, he vows for the umpteenth time.

 

The two of them work in silence. Orion and Walburga should be busy in Gringotts, getting the news of their sudden shift in the social hierarchy. They should be safe for now. His expanded pouches are worth their weight in gold, as he stuffs the books and binders in them as quickly as he dares.

 

“Kreacher,” he calls softly, once most of the texts are packed up. “Where are Atlas’s things?”

 

The elf pauses, ears drooping slightly. “In the basement.”

 

He hands him the last expanded bag. “Could you please pack them?”

 

Kreacher pops off. Itachi is just about finishing up with the essentials and considering packing the less essential things when something in the house - shifts.

 

Now properly tense, he waits for a moment, then two. Kreacher pops in, eyes large, ears trembling faintly.

 

“The wards. The wards are up. Nobody goes in, nobody goes out.”

 

His mind - sharpens, back straightens. This, he knows. This is an attack. He can distantly feel non-essential parts of his mind shut down, as adrenaline and a fair bit of rage narrow his focus. Alright.

 

“Can you apparate?” Wizards rarely ever ward against house-elves, especially their own.

 

“Only within the house.”

 

He pulls out his wand, and the steady presence grounds him slightly. Think.

 

They’re on the second floor, and while the wards of the rooms are nominally safe, they are wards they put up against petty attacks and minor loss of temper. Whoever locked them in, be it Orion or Walburga, had stopped caring for social niceties.

 

He should never have come here.

 

No - they should never have attacked me. Regulus. Atlas. They should never have abused their children. They should never have dared.

 

“Alright, let’s give this a try.” He grabs Kreacher, tucks him close, and summons his magic, imbuing it with as much sturdy, implacable rage as he can manage. Rage is not in short supply, so a decent if rudimentary shield expands out of his body.

 

“Cover your face.” He snaps and launches himself through the window.

 

The second floor of an English house is fairly low, and his magic is more than strong enough to keep the glass and metal from any but the most superficial wounds. With magic strengthening his bones and muscles, paying extra attention to his knees and ankles, and he lands on the grass without damaging himself further.

 

“Wizards,” he sneers, “aren’t the most practical bunch.”

 

“Can you move physically over the border of the property?”

 

Kreacher is almost catatonic with shock, giant eyes bulged and body trembling with adrenaline.

 

“Kreacher!” He snaps. Footsteps are audible now, at least one large body running his way.

 

“I - I can try.” Stutters the elf. “You should go instead, little star. Let me hold them off.”

 

“You are the only one who can apparate.” He replies as calmly as he can. “I am perfectly able to distract them while you get Lord Black. Go, go, quickly.”

 

His fae-parent takes off, and Itachi can’t help but be grateful for the elf’s tendency to fall back to obedience when frightened. He never would have left otherwise, and, honestly, this is a fight he needs. Vicious, dark rage howls in his soul, his magic taking clues from his bloodlust and whipping him even further into a frenzy. There is little left of a Shinobi known for being emotionless and even-tempered even when wading through hip-deep blood.

 

Orion Black skids to a stop at the exit of the house. Itachi wastes no time in analyzing his moods or predicting his behaviour.

 

He leaps forward, twisting narrowly to avoid an incoming curse. The interesting thing about duelling is that the magical field around your body slows down foreign magic - it’s why dodging is at all possible. With how much Magic Itachi is putting out, the curse is slow enough to comfortably avoid. He twists in the air as best he can, and alters his direction enough to -

 

A red curse hits him straight to the chest.

 

Time - glitches. The part of his brain not shrieking in agony - the part of his brain that he has learned to wall off just for inevitable situations like these - is morbidly fascinated by the sensation. Because - it’s magical pain. Over his life, Itachi has become very, very familiar with how pain works, how it feels, and how to manipulate it. Tsukuyomi works - in part - by manipulating the brain, the perception of reality.

 

This - this is a hack. A flimsy replacement - there’s no nuance to it, no psychological element, just plain old brute pain. The brain is attacked directly, creating artificial pain signals which the body is forced to interpret.

 

Honestly, his biggest worry is that the nerves will get damaged by overuse.

 

He’s deep enough into his mind, that he doesn’t really register that the pain has stopped. Well - that’s not true. He registers, of course, his body stops writhing, and his throat stops screaming. But it takes a few moments for the information to cycle from awareness to conscious action.

 

Which is honestly, a stroke of luck. Orion fucking Black really should stop underestimating children.

 

The man stops next to his heaving body, points a wand point-blank and fires off another red curse.

 

It would be a lie to say it’s easier this time - there is no gradation there. That’s how the curse works, it’s very much a binary state of being - no agony or maximal possible agony your body can produce.

 

At the same time, pure pain is relatively simple to withstand, when you have the training for it. Without the complex psychological aspect of torture, it’s entirely possible your mind will break before you give in to whatever is asked of you.

 

With even a second of warning, Itachi slips into the quiet part of his mind almost before he registers the pain. Alright - quick plan. The curse lasts about ten, twenty seconds, and you’re pretty fresh, magic wise. You’ve a good fight left in you, theoretically. The curse shouldn’t have any physical effect, other than the obvious. So - any moment now, he’s going to release it, presumably to watch you beg. There’s an opening there. It’s obvious this is meant as punishment, as revenge, and not a straightforward murder. You’d already be dead if that were the case.

 

He can’t inhale, not with the screaming and writhing, which is also possibly why the man lifts it as regularly as he does. He’s pretty limited in what he can make his body do when he’s deep down as he is, so he tries instead to grab a hold of his magic.

 

It’s - oh boy. It’s screaming too, in a way - a sort of confused helpless scream. Any magical being with a passing awareness of their environment would feel the screams of magic being tortured by the Cruciatus, he’s sure.

 

There is not much he can do about it - wait. Wasn’t he -

 

He was. Itachi is in fact still holding his wand. His hand is clenched around the handle so hard that it would likely have cracked if not for the stone inlay. Alright, that’s a solid chance, right there.

 

Two things happen at once. Orion lifts the curse but remains foolishly within reach. Itachi comes into his own body, ignoring everything irrelevant with the ease of great practice. Focus - focus - right arm - right arm. The nerves are still twitching, his body mostly unresponsive, seizing with the aftershocks.

 

Orion rises his wand again - you can’t afford this again. You’re young and weak, your heart could give out, your brain took a lot of healers to keep functional.

 

“Cru-”

 

Desperation turns out to be the key to overriding the body’s confused flailing. He curls his abdominals as much as he can - his upper body lurches, right arm lashes out -

 

And his wand stabs Orion right in the thigh. His short, inflexible wand with a stone inlay.

 

Blood sprays, the man falls, shriek turning into a scream. Itachi manages to hold on to the wand by some miracle, but Orion’s movement carries him too, and his spasming body slams into the ground, head bouncing off the cobblestones. His mouth - breaks. Something cracks, something cuts, blood fills his mouth. The entire thing lasts about 0.5 seconds, but the field is much closer to even, now. Because his wand, his wise, old partner, is furious. Frothing, in its own way. Which in this case means it channels torrents of furious, wounded magic straight into Orion’s bloodstream.

 

Through the haze of animal pain, and what is likely a decent concussion, rage is rising again in Itachi as well. Most of his body is out of commission - for now - but now that he’s on the ground, Orion is a very manageable target. The man hadn’t stopped screaming, a desperate, cloying sort of terror. Now, this - if he knows his magic - is torture with a psychological element. There is a chance that it’s purely physical but he doubts it. He’s used Tsukuyomi and a wide assortment of combat Genjutsu simply too many times for his magic not to pick up on that. It’s simply his base, habitual response. When you strip everything else away, there at the bottom is a Shinobi. A killer. A torturer.

 

Analytically, he takes stock of the situation. His body is twitching - spasming really. His mouth is open, and based on the amount of blood he’s choking down, he’s bit down on his tongue at some point quite badly. There is no sense in trying to identify any injuries, not with the agony still coursing through his body. His heart is racing, working on a decent case of tachycardia.

 

There will be no moving from this. His arm is locked where it is, gripping the wand like a knife, but at most he can hope to outlast Orion in their race towards unconsciousness - death really. Whoever loses consciousness first dies. In Orion’s case because Itachi hit the femoral artery with the unerring practice of a born and bred killer. In Itachi’s case because Orion will kill him if he gets the chance.

 

He counts the seconds - then his heartbeat, then when his mind starts slipping, he focuses on Regulus. Come on - do you want Regulus to come and find your corpse - was one brother not enough?

 

Come on - Regulus - Regulus - Kreacher - Regulus - Sasuke - Regulus - Sasuke -

 

A sound of a pop comes - apparition - Kreacher -

 

A force - magic - levitation spell - lifts him - up - up - up - until he’s gently lowered into the exact same position of before. Not ideal. Ah well, he’s been swallowing the blood pooling in his mouth until now, he can manage a little more.

 

Time passes, and finally, finally, magic washes over him. One by one, epicentres of pain wink out. His tongue is healed - or at least it stops bleeding. The roar at the back of his head quietens into a dull throb, and whatever happened to his right palm is covered with something cool and soothing.

 

Small, leathery hands touch his face softly, and a noise - a voice - speaks right next to his ears. His eyes have long since stopped sending any discernible image to his mind - not that he’s tried to look, honestly - there wasn’t so much worth seeing - and he needed to focus -

 

Focus - why - why did he need to focus - who - Kreacher?

 

Sound trails in again, slightly louder now.

 

“-us - Siri - Sirius -”

 

Regulus - is that - what -

 

He loses some time again, awash with pain, body spasming, each clench a fresh torrent of agony. He’s - moved? Propped up by something? Something wonderfully soft, and slightly warm. Whatever it is, his head is turned to the side, conveniently, and while the pain doesn’t stop, it’s nice to see the incomprehensible lights.

 

“-ri -Siri - Siri - Si-”

 

Bigger hands, strong hands touch his shoulders - wrap around his wrist - try to get his wand -

 

No-no-no you won’t get my wand, asshole -

 

His body might be useless, but he still has some few drops of magic left in him - enough to -

 

“- Siri - Siri no - Siri it’s me -”

 

Wait - wait - Regulus - does Regulus - need his wand?

 

Whatever Regulus wants, Regulus gets. He surrenders to the hands, head lolling back, surrendering to the spasms. He’s drooling - how uncouth -

 

“-ror Shacklebolt -”

 

The sound comes in in waves, amplifying and lowering without rhyme or reason. The spasming however is getting - difficult. There is a lot of blood filling his mouth again, and not choking on it becomes the central point of his existence.

 

Magic again - blessed magic - takes away the bleeding - but his body - his useless spasming body is lowered again on the ground - no - no -

 

The sounds stop. All sounds, not just the snippets of voices. Whether it’s magic or just his mind deciding it’s got no more processing power is anyone’s guess. It helps, strangely. Some small smidgeon of control, of focus, allows him to close his eyes. Much better. No sound, no light. With most of his senses shut down, he can process some of what’s going on perhaps.

 

The overwhelming confusion doesn’t abate, and his body continues to spasm wildly. He lays on the stone, wheezing and heaving for breath, which works badly with the other body-spasms. Badly enough that he falls into some odd type of seizure.

 

Thankfully the wheezing is enough to clue his helper in that there’s something going on with his windpipe. Magic washes over him again, shifting him on his side, in the recovery position.

 

Oh, thank the Sage. He doesn’t have the means to close - or open - his jaw, but even without the blood, breathing is - difficult. A tingle of an active spell, and the hard rock he was laying on turns into - something. Something soft with just the right amount of give to be comfortable but provide support.

 

The more pain leaves him, the more awareness seeps in its place. His vision sharpens from pastel blobs, into smaller, more brightly coloured blobs. His mind stops glitching out as much, and basic feats of reason aren’t beyond him.

 

One basic feat of reason is this: you should not swallow too much blood or you will vomit. Case in point, he doesn’t have the muscle control to ease the cramps, but as blood and vomit rush out of his mouth, another spell comes his way that vanishes the lot. A wave of dizziness hits hard, and the next few moments are lost to time, as his mind blanks completely.

 

When he comes to, the sound is still off, which means likely something self-inflicted. His vision, though, his vision has improved by leaps and bounds. Blurry shapes, but real shapes are visible at the edge of his field of vision. More importantly, the seizure has decreased down to very manageable levels, faint twitching instead of full-body shakes.

 

Regulus - Regulus - is he - Regulus -

 

He gurgles as best he can, but like most every muscle in his body, his speaking apparatus is beyond control. He gurgles, again and again, hoping someone will understand - will you just get my brother here so I can see him, Sage wept.

 

His head is turned carefully, and - Kreacher, it's Kreacher that peers into his eyes looking presumably for some sort of intelligence.

 

He gurgles again, softer perhaps but its hard to speak when you can’t hear. Either way, he must show enough proof of life to suit the elf’s conditions, because Itachi is suddenly turned around on his back, and little by little, raised into a reclining position.

 

That’s - familiar. This is the way he was held before. Of course, it was Kreacher’s spell. Of course. Holy Hectate, that’s better. With only his extremities twitching, it’s much easier to sit up. He’s, he suspects, suspended by magic and little else but it allows him to see better.

 

Kreacher’s head takes up most of the visual field, but behind him, several human figures stand - too many for it to be just Arcturus. He can’t see Regulus - where the fuck is his brother Goddamn it -

 

His agitation must come though because Kreacher says something. And again. And again. On each repetition, where Itachi just stares dumbly at him helplessly, the elf grows more and more alarmed, until at last, he stops speaking, and a wave of magic washes over him. It tingles - his mind tells him, uselessly. Whatever it is, it doesn’t help, because other than the tingles, not a single thing changes.

 

Kreacher visibly despairs for less than a moment, but that moment is - going to be difficult to live with. Soul-deep pain, that has grown and grown over the centuries and would crush a puny mortal into dust. The elf bears it stoically for a moment, before tucking it away. A leathery hand smooths over his face - his still slack drooling face - before he pops away.

 

The spell keeps him sitting up, thank the Gods, and he spends a long sequence of moments burying the memory of Kreacher’s pain down next to Atlas and Sasuke and Mikoto. There is no point in drowning himself in grief when they’re trying so hard to keep him alive. Breathe in - an oddly fresh, minty-flavoured breath. Did Kreacher - magically brush his teeth.

 

Kreacher is the best parent, and he will hear not a single word against it.

 

He returns with his brother, and Itachi is so fucking relieved he almost passes out then and there. He doesn’t, but it’s a near thing. Based on his posture and manner of walking Regulus is uninjured, for all that he’s covered in blood. Orion’s blood, if he cared to guess. Or Itachi’s which is considerably less good. Whatever focusing method he’s using, it’s working, because he looks at Itachi with eyes clouded with worry but not hysteria. He is also saying something and has been for a while now. His mouth moves obviously, but it’s too blurry to read his lips accurately.

 

With gargantuan effort, he shakes his head minutely.

 

Regulus nods once, a firm, determined movement, before turning around and marching in the direction of the adults in the distance.

 

Itachi’s mind is occupied by Kreacher’s hand that’s smoothing over his head. The warmth and the safety he gets from the loving gesture is - indescribable. A wave of hopeless love washes over him, as unhinged in intensity as the rest of it. He’d cry from it if he had the energy for it. As it is he settles for closing his eyes and enjoying the torturous flood of emotion. The hand never stops, and there is joy in complete submission, in letting go of every and all control. He just - is.

 


 

Regulus returns with a phalanx of humans-adults-allies. His mind tumbles into a series of glitches at the sight of so many strangers. Thankfully, Regulus is there, and if he focuses very hard on him, he can just about force himself to remain calm. Well, not calm, but unmoving.

 

Spells wash over him, and tensing is kind of tricky because his nerves are still glitchy and weird, so when he unconsciously clenches his shoulders, his arms twitch a few times in quick succession. He’s so confused by this weird, malfunctioning body, that he can barely think to be frightened of all this foreign magic aimed his way.

 

However, from one moment to the next - sound washes over him.

 

He flinches back, eyes falling shut, an honest to god whine escaping his throat. The volume of sound - words, birds, motherfucking breathing, it all makes him nauseous, the dizziness and the pain combing into one. There is nothing to expel, but his body does it’s best to hurl.

 

Regulus’s voice rises above the rest at a volume that makes stars explode in front of his eyes. The words are too loud to be understood, but Regulus’s emotions are clear - cold rage. The snap of Kreacher’s fingers thunders across his overwrought mind, but whatever spell he used fixes the issue quite handily. The noise dials down to quite manageable levels, and he droops back into his invisible chair, exhaling in relief.

 

“-re you done with torturing my brother? Or do you want to try your wand at an Unforgivable too?”

 

“Now see here you little brat-”

 

Regulus’s voice snakes over the adult’s bass easily. “Do you think I cannot get you removed from here? From my own house? I very much can. One complaint, that you’re menacing traumatized children, that you cast on my brother, the Heir of House Black without his or my consent and you can say goodbye to all the good cases, and make peace with rescuing Kneazles out of trees.”

 

Itachi can’t help but gurgle in appreciation. Whatever happened to his scholarly little baby brother? All grown up and bullying law-enforcement, apparently.

 

“I’m sure that what my colleague wanted to say,” interrupts a deep, chocolatey voice that made Itachi want to roll around in it like a cat. “Is that sensory magic is very complicated. Without knowing what exactly your brother was cursed with, it would have been impossible to prevent a sensory overload for the initial first moments.”

 

Regulus harrumphs but relents, voice gentling into a fair approximation of his usual polite tenor. “I apologize for the misunderstanding, Auror Shacklebolt, and my heated words. You can imagine that I am - distraught. I will try to contain myself better.”

 

“Not at all, Mr Black. You’re handling yourself with admirable poise, minor outbursts aside. Now, do you want to see to your brother?”

 

Regulus kneels down next to Itachi, which is really very nice of him. He couldn’t crane his head even if he wanted to. Kreacher is the only one fully in his field of vision, and the elf has retreated to somewhere behind his left shoulder when the adults - Aurors? - came by.

 

“Siri, can you hear me?” Asks Regulus quietly. There is a wealth of complexity in his tightly controlled voice, but Itachi is entirely too muddled to attempt to decipher it.

 

“Ua” he gurgles - the closest he can come to yes.

 

“Oh thank Circe.” Breathes Regulus, some tension leeching out of him. “You - you will be fine. The - the torture has - it has - your nerves -”

 

“Peace, lad.” Rumbles the honey-voiced man, interrupting the painful stutter. Shacklebolt. “You don’t need to explain anything, now.”

 

“I do.” Snaps Regulus. “I do need to. He wants to know - he always wants to know -” He inhales sharply, audibly, tangibly calming himself. “I apologize again, Auror Shacklebolt. Please do excuse my candour.”

 

He turns to Itachi once again and breathes out, and in, clawing his way to a measure of calm. “You are fine. The Aurors have summoned the Mediwizards who will arrive presently. We will negotiate a safe way to move you to St. Mungos with them, as we are wary of casting any magic on you besides the necessities.”

 

“I cannot explain the situation more thoroughly - I will not. I do not understand it myself, and Grandfather is handling everything. For now-” he exaggeratedly increases the volume of his voice. “Heir Black needs to get his tongue reattached, his nerves un-fried, his concussion healed, his teeth re-grown, his jaw un-sprained and his skin un-burnt.”

 

“Holy fucking shit, boss.” Whisper-shouts someone in the back. “Nobody has dosed the kid with pain-relief potions, right? Why isn’t he passed out from the pain long ago?”

 

“Auror Locke, do shut up.” Says Shacklebolt serenely. “Heir Black, if you can hear me, we need to establish a base level of communication. As an Heir of an Ancient and Noble House of Hogwarts age, your consent is enough for us to treat you. If you think you are unable to be responsible for yourself, Lord Black is an acceptable substitute.”

 

Itachi blinks for a long moment, untangling the words. Lord Black - Grandfather? What? Oh, oh, medical proxy, that’s what he wants. He gurgles to show he’s following, before cutting his eyes to Regulus, and gurgling again, this time trying for an encouraging-gurgle.

 

“Hippogriff’s horn,” mutters the same Auror - Locke - with a sort of morbid amazement.

 

“Auror Locke, go - go find the Healers.” Sighs Shacklebolt. It says good things about Itachi’s state that he’s capable of discerning so many different voices.

 

“Before baby Black starts breathing fire.” Mutters another Auror - a Lady this time, which narrows it down considerably.

 

“Auror Fiddlewood, join Auror Locke.” This Shacklebolt sounds like an eminently capable man. It’s a shame he’s an Auror and thus beyond poaching - not that he has anywhere to poach him to. For. Whatever. Regulus’s bodyguard - that’s a thing, here? As the heir of the heir, Regulus’s body very much needs guarding.

 

“-wice for no.”

 

Itachi blinks, having completely lost the thread of conversation, somewhere around the time he slipped into a fantasy of the delightful-voiced Auror Shacklebolt being both Regulus’s bodyguard, and his own personal narrator. Itachi could go around with eyes closed, blessedly free from the curse of vision, and the man could just narrate the goings-on. How lovely would that be - Regulus safe and the syrupy, golden voice all around him - them - all - around - Regulus -

 

“-ealer now, do you hear m-”

 

Sleep. 

 

Chapter Text

Arcturus Black can’t quite say this is the worst day of his life. There are many worst days of his life, depending on the type and duration of the trauma.

 

So - it’s difficult to place seeing your son nearly dead from a wand-wound (what) to the thigh, at the hand of your grandson who lies nearly dead - tortured to death - by your son.

 

What does an old man do, when his family has deteriorated to that level.

 

***

 

Lord Black, his grandson and two house-elves stand in front of a gate. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

 

Walburga may not be involved directly, but it is her magical signature on the Wards around the property, her and hers alone. The Ward scheme that stood around Grimmauld Place for hundreds of years, that protected hundreds of Blacks, that absorbed their magic, and grew and improved - all torn down and for what, exactly? Greed? Pride? Insanity?

 

Definitely insanity. He feels the famed pull of the Black insanity himself, but that, if nothing else, is easy enough to push down. He hadn’t succumbed to the madness for forty years, and he’s not going to do so now.

 

“Tansy, go summon the Aurors. Tell them to bring some Obliviators, but that the situation is beyond urgent. A child’s life lies in the balance.” He says. “Kreacher, keep Regulus safe. At the first sign of trouble, apparate him to Castle Black.”

 

“I will.” Says Kreacher. The eerie, crisp elocution will always sound disturbing to his ears, coming from an elf of all things.

 

The street is nominally a Muggle street and he’s stretching the limits of what will be allowed. He casts a notice-me-not charm and stretches it to include a few meter radius around himself.

 

“Walburga. You know what you have to do.” He booms, a Sonorus charm easily carrying his voice inside. “You are still a child of House of Black. I may not be able to force you to do anything, but there is nowhere Family Magic will not find you. Lower the wards. Now.”

 

“Well said,” a man’s voice says behind him. Don’t flinch. It’s the Aurors. Soundless apparition, combined with a sound-dampening charm. Impressive, for a troupe of mudbloods and blood-traitors. “Is this a hostage situation, Lord Black?”

 

Ah, that’s where the voice is familiar. Heir Shacklebolt, neither a mudblood nor a blood-traitor. They might be of some use.

 

“I do not know. Orion Black, previous Heir Black, and his wife, Walburga Black, hold my Heir, Sirius Black behind Wards that do not respond to my magic. I leave you to your conclusions.”

 

“Why would your son kill his son?” Asks an Auror. This time, Arcturus moves, cranes his head to see who dared -

 

“Auror Starling, you’re suspended, go home.” Says Shacklebolt, cutting that particular thread before it could unravel everything further. Very efficient.

 

“I do not dare suggest how a unit of Aurors should organize their operation, but I do suggest a focus on preventing a crime, instead of solving it.” He says to Shacklebolt, ignoring his herd of imbeciles with ease of long practice.

 

“Do you think they will negotiate?”

 

“I think not.” He says. “The threat of Family Magic bearing down on them is on the table. If that didn’t dissuade them, I don’t know what will.”

 

Regulus is eerily calm beside them. On one hand, he’s grateful that the boy’s faith in his older brother’s invulnerability is sparing them the hysterics now. On the other hand, he fears what will happen once it’s shattered. Sirius is a prodigy, a once in a generation talent, but against a fully trained wizard, he stands no chance.

 

The boy is alive, that much he knows. As is his son. How long that will remain the case remains to be seen.

 

“Very well. Auror Ibex, Auror Locke, you know what to do. Gather evidence and bring them down. And be quick about it.”

 

It seems Walburga’s fate is sealed too. He would not have insisted the Aurors collect the evidence from the Wards - he had honestly thought them too dim to think of it, never mind accomplish. No, for all their general incompetence, the two Aurors work well together. Arcturus knows little of Wards, but the ones set by his daughter-in-law felt strong and well thought out.

 

“I’m going to have to burn them out, boss.” Grits out Locke. “Or spend a day or three weaselling around them.”

 

“Do what you have to. The Obliviators are already on the scene.” Nobody will get out of it unscathed if the Heir of House Black dies while the Aurors were pussyfooting around some Muggles. Arcturus knows it, they know it, Wizarding Britain knows it. He wouldn’t even have to lift a finger to do it - every single Noble House would rise up in outrage. Not that he wouldn’t, of course.

 

The golden-haired wizard - with suspiciously Malfoy looks - grins at the Head Auror (thus destroying any likeness to the Noble House) and takes out a black box bristling with softly glowing runes. Well, now. What is this?

 

The Auror places the box on the edge of the Wards. “Close your eyes,” he cackles - cackles! - taps his wand on the box and takes a quick step back.

 

The boom is expected, but the light isn’t. It’s bright enough that he hurries to shield his eyes with his elbow.

 

“All set, boss.” Whatever the device did, it came at a steep cost. The Auror pants, visibly drained, and his body sways. The device is melted down into a black puddle of unknowable material.

 

“Move in. Two hostiles, that we know of.”

 

“Kreacher will lead us to Siri.” Regulus voice is unexpected. More than one Auror flinches at the childish tone, and Auror Shacklebolt sends him a blank look. He looks right back. Stopping a devoted brother from the crime-scene with a loyal house-elf by his side is a fool's errand. This way they gain at least a measure of control and prevent the child from apparating into a spell-fight.

 

“They are in the garden.” Says Kreacher.

 

Arcturus takes in a deep breath. “Regulus, you have to stay back.” He pauses waiting for an outburst that does not come.

 

“I know. I am no use in a fight. Kreacher will get me when it’s safe.”

 

Arcturus raises an impressed eyebrow. “Thank you, Grandson. Auror, shall we?”

 

Kreacher touches their legs with a professional air, and they - squeeze -

 

- Rematerializing in front of a grisly scene straight out of the war.

 

A wave of confusion blanks his mind, and for the first time in quite a few years, he doesn’t know what to do.

 

His son - his grandson - the blood  - are they even - no, no they are alive - both of the - he can feel them - can’t he? -

 

Auror Shacklebolt is, to his eternal shame, much quicker to jump into action. He sends a quick volley of spells on the two prone figures. When Sirius’s body is levitated away, the wand that his grandson has buried to the hilt into his son’s thigh comes out with a sick sound. Blood pours out of the wand-shaped hole, quickly stopped by a muttered spell by Auror Shacklebolt.

 

His stomach tightens, and he suddenly knows he won’t be able to watch this part. Instead, he focuses on the Auror, firing off spells one right after the other with barely a pause for breath.

 

Even now, the Auror’s professional mask remains flawless. There is nothing but professional placidity on his features, with perhaps a small furrow in his brow to show focus - or rage.

 

His Grandson is still suspended in the air, and it’s quiet enough that he can hear the pitter-patter of blood dripping off him to the stone cobbles. Pat, pat, pat. He shudders.

 

It objectively doesn’t take more than a minute to stem the blood and stabilize his son for now, but it feels considerably longer. Long enough for Kreacher to decide it’s safe now, and pop back with Regulus.

 

He closes his eyes and ears against the desperate scream. It was inevitable, he knows. It doesn’t help.

 

“Stay back, Regulus.” He warns, eyes still closed, gathering what little composure he can in this pit of despair. “The Auror needs to stabilize him first.”

 

The boy doesn’t hear him of course. Switch the target, then. “Kreacher, keep him back.” 

 

Judging by the lack of a hysterical child barreling into them, the elf heeded his command. Or the boy had sense enough not to diminish his brother’s chances further. Doesn’t matter.

 

Auror Shacklebolt is unfazed by the screaming child, at least on the surface. What it says about both of them, Arcturus doesn’t know. The Auror lowers Sirius on the ground carefully and sends a barrage of similar spells at him.

 

“Well, Auror.” He says, ignoring the tremble in his voice. “What is the situation.”

 

“One moment.” Breathes Shacklebolt between spells.

 

He bites his lip to prevent whatever inanity from escaping. Best let the Auror do his job.

 

“Both gentlemen will survive.” Says Shacklebolt a long three minutes later. “Mister Black -”

 

“Start with my Grandson, if you would. Whatever days Mr Black has left to him will be spent in Azkaban either way.”

 

Shacklebolt inclines his head, apparently taking no offence at being interrupted. He also likely agrees with him.

 

“Heir Black is severely injured. Prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus, severe concussion, tongue bitten off, shattered teeth, third-degree burns, and a sprained jaw. I already administered blood-replenishing potion, and have stopped all the bleeding, but I dare not do anything else.”

 

He pauses his calm, gruesome recital, and summons a Patronus - a deceptively harmless-looking anteater with curved, five-inch-long claws.

 

“A team of healers at Twelve, Grimmauld Place, London. By order of Head Auror Shacklebolt.”

 

The anteater disappears, and the Auror continues.

 

“The Healers’ efforts will be undermined by any magic we cast on Heir Black. Blood-replenishing was crucial, considering the amount of blood-loss.”

 

Arcturus closes his eyes and spends a long minute just - breathing. In and out. Sirius will be fine. It’s all - fixable. Nothing a skele-gro, some burn paste and some nice sleep won’t fix.

 

Bile rises in his throat.

 

“Can we.” He stops, breathes, and starts again. “Can we -” he gestures helplessly at the boy - his grandson - Sirius - spasming on the ground.

 

“Gently. Heir Black is - nominally - awake. The Cruciatus attacks the nerves. With the length he was likely under, he will be feeling the aftershocks for quite some time. Don’t restrain him in any way, and keep his head tilted at all times to make sure his airways remain open in case of vomiting.”

 

This is all they need because Regulus and Kreacher rush to his Heir. Arcturus closes his eyes again. Circe.

 

“Is he - likely to vomit?” He can’t help but ask. It doesn’t matter even a little bit - it's laughably simple to spell such things away. It’s just - it doesn’t fit, and his mind latched on to the irregularity desperate to not think about the rest.

 

“He swallowed a great deal of blood.” Is the bland reply. “Judging by the contusion on the back of his head, he bit straight through his tongue, possibly upon contact with the stone cobbles. Shattering his teeth in the process.”

 

Or perhaps he bit through his tongue and shattered his teeth during the torture, he thinks. Numb doesn’t begin to cover it - Arcturus is not a particularly nice man, he’s seen and done awful things. But - his own son - to torture a beautiful, Pureblood child of eleven - how -

 

A ghostly rattlesnake swims through the air and speaks in Auror Locke’s voice. “House secured, boss. Ms Black came quietly, denying any knowledge or culpability in the kidnapping.”

 

“Her signature was on the Wards.” The words come out of his mouth, surprising nobody more than himself. Then he glances at his grandson they would have happily tortured to death, and is not surprised after all. “Walburga Black was at the very least complicit.”

 

Auror Shacklebolt sends him a bland look, that nonetheless conveys an impressed sentiment. “Thank you for your cooperation, Lord Black. Your statement will remain on record. Would you be willing to testify to that effect?”

 

“Oh yes.” He murmurs, feeling quite tired all of a sudden. What a deeply terrible day. “Whatever you need Auror. Bury them in Azkaban. Feed them to the Dementors. Send them through the Veil. This is - this is beyond forgiveness.”

 

He can feel the eyes of the Auror on him for a long time, but he finds he can’t quite look away from his two grandchildren.

 

“Very well. My Aurors have already recorded her magical signature, which is enough to take her into custody.”

 

“Do what you can. Family magic stands at your disposal in this matter.” To think he would ever be offering such to an Auror of all wizards.

 

To think that a Black would ever stoop so low as these two had.

 

“Take her into custody.” The Auror says to his ghostly anteater. “The rest of you come here. Carefully. The scene is - delicate.”

 

The professional tone wavers for only a moment, but it’s enough to soothe something in Arcturus’s soul. Shacklebolt is not as unaffected as he looks. Not that it matters.

 

The Auror’s file in, and he summons the strength to approach his grandchildren.

 

Silent tears flow down Regulus’s face, as he whispers his brother's name like a mantra. Sirius is propped up by the elf’s spell, and the hazy-eyed, blood-stained child holds little resemblance to the proud, poised, powerhouse of a boy he has come to know. He’s so small, there, he can’t imagine how he could ever have looked so unbreakable.

 

His hand is still clenched around his wand, holding it like a knife. The same hand that is covered in vicious burns, the bones peeking through blackened flesh in places. The wand needs to go - but how to make the boy relinquish it without causing him more harm?

 

He kneels down and looks into the blank silver eyes. Not a sign of intelligence. Gently, he places his hand on the undamaged parts of the tiny, birdlike arm, and tries to dislodge the bloody wand -

 

Panic lights up the blank eyes, and the boy starts fighting feebly, what was left of his magic rising desperately - oh Goddess - not this now -

 

He lets go of the arm immediately, but Sirius continues to struggle against an invisible opponent, magic still rising.

 

What - Who - Regulus!

 

“Stop him.” He snaps. “He cannot afford to spend any magic, not the smallest amount. Talk to him.”

 

Wide, terrified eyes snap to him for a moment, before understanding clears them.

 

“Siri, Siri wait, Siri, it’s me, it’s Regulus, stop it-” He places his tiny hands on Sirius’s equally tiny chest - have his grandsons really been so small this entire time? They’re practically infants, how did he ever let them leave the Castle -

 

Sirius settles as soon as his brother’s voice registers. Hazy, clouded eyes track his brother's movements slowly, the boy fighting for clarity. After a moment, a whisper of something that could have been a sound - or a wheeze - escapes the boy. The wand clatters to the ground. He resolutely doesn’t look at the instrument, covered in his son’s blood, and his grandson’s skin, and instead focuses on Sirius.

 

“Auror Shacklebolt.” He calls. The previously sporadic spasms have turned more violent almost to the point of a full-blown seizure.

 

“Stand back.” Comes the deep voice. It’s fascinating how quickly his mind stopped interpreting the voice as obnoxiously placid and started to find it a genuine source of comfort.

 

He steps back, but Regulus doesn’t budge so much as an inch.

 

With a barely audible sigh, the Auror gives in to the inevitable and doesn’t even attempt to detach the two. Instead, he casts a short series of spells, with little visible result.

 

“This is beyond my skill,” Shacklebolt says, the faint note of worry causing dread to freeze inside his spine. “I have done what I can, placed a stasis spell on the burnt hand, and done my best to re-heal his tongue, but there is nothing I can do about the seizure. The wound on his tongue will re-open soon I fear. For now, you should lay him on his side, so he doesn’t swallow the blood, and let the seizure play out. The Mediwizards should be here presently.”

 

As it happens, it’s not Healers that file in, but the Auror Unit. As they enter the Garden, they spread wide and start documenting the place for evidence.

 

Arcturus holds on to his composure by truly Herculean efforts.

 

“While we wait for the Mediwizards, perhaps you could provide some information regarding the case.”

 

“Now.” He says. “You want me to give my statement now.”

 

“If you don’t mind.” In the end, it’s the voice that convinces him. He owes the man for his professional conduct and competence. Let it not be said a Black forgets his debts.

 

“As you wish.” He turns to his one lucid grandson. “Regulus, come here if you would. We need to provide information to the Aurors.”

 

A terrible, broken snarl twists Regulus’s face for a moment before he realizes the stakes here. He wants Orion and Walburga to rot more than possibly anyone else in the world. Plus there is the matter of whatever Sirius did to Orion that rendered him - that.

 

“Of course,” He spits in a tight voice. “Everything to help the Ministry.”

 

Auror Shacklebolt shows none of the discomfort Arcturus knows he must feel at the sight of Regulus. The nine-year-old is covered in blood and dirt, hair thrown in a disarray, tear-tracks visible though the coppery smears on his face.

 

“If you don’t mind, could you walk me through the day? Everything you can remember.”

 

“It’s really quite straightforward, Auror.” Says Regulus. “My brother - newly named Heir to House Black - and I were moving to Castle Black today, to live with our primary guardian, Lord Black. We were removed from Orion’s and Walburga’s care the previous day. Gringotts can provide the appropriate paperwork. Sirius and Kreacher - our house-elf - came here a little over two hours ago, to gather our belongings.”

 

He takes in a sharp breath, his voice strained from the monologue. “About an hour ago, Kreacher apparated to Castle Black to get help from Lord Black. Siri and him were trapped - the Wards-”

 

He pauses again, this time to gather his composure. “The Wards trapped them inside.  They managed to escape out of our room, and into the garden. Siri - “ Inhale - exhale. “Siri sent him to get help, while he stayed to distract Orion. Kreacher managed to find a weak spot in the Wards just big enough for an elf to squeeze through, and apparated to us.”

 

“Understood.” Says Shacklebolt. “Do you happen to know how your brother escaped the house? My Aurors tell me there were formidable Wards around the building.”

 

“He jumped through the window.” Says Regulus, a horrible shade of a smile on his face. “I believe you can see it from here.”

 

Arcturus, not even terribly shocked, nevertheless looks up at the house. Indeed, a shattered window is there, second floor, third room to the left.

 

Shacklebolt looks to be doing similar types of calculations and coming up with similar improbable numbers. “Understood. Lord Black, do you have anything to add?”

 

“Just to reiterate my earlier statement. Lowest pit of Azkaban, the Kiss, or the Veil. Nothing else is acceptable.”

 

It’s not the Auror the words are meant for. As expected, Regulus tangibly relaxes at the unshakable certainty that the offenders will be wiped off the face of the earth for this.

 

The Auror knows it too, because he doesn’t comment, but settles for a solemn nod, that relaxes the boy even further. “Rest assured, the perpetrators will not escape unpunished. Thank you for your cooperation.”

 

The Auror unit, long since having gathered what little evidence there was. What exactly they expected to find, is beyond him. The case is more or less clear - Orion’s wand is the one piece of evidence necessary.

 

“Abbot, report. What is the suspect’s condition?”

 

Abbot? He looks at the Auror in question. He’s not familiar with him, but then again Abbots and Blacks rarely socialized outside of the Wizengamot.

 

“He will live through today.” Comes the smart reply from the Auror still working on his son. “Other than that, it’s anyone’s guess. Whatever the boy did to him, it was powerful. The leg will likely have to be regrown entirely.”

 

“Can it be? Regrown I mean?” Asks one of the unnamed Aurors. His tone is light, slightly curious, and Arcturus is torn between approval and affront.

 

“Yeah, it should be, if you can believe it. Dark magic didn’t cause this. It responds to healing without any resistance at all.”

 

Really,” perks up the Malfoy look-alike. “What did cause that? Cause, where I’m standing, the kid burned out magic out of him entirely.”

 

“Pardon me?” Arcturus asks, not quite certain if he heard him correctly.

 

“None of us here are trained Healers.” Declares Shacklebolt, a thrum of iron adding weight to his tone. “So we will not speculate.”

 

Arcturus tunes out the squabbling Aurors, desperately trying to forget everything in the past five minutes.

 

“Grandfather, Sirius is awake, and he can’t hear.” Says Regulus all of a sudden. When did he even get here? Circe, these children…

 

“He can’t - hear? Auror Shacklebolt, do you know anything about this?”

 

“No, indeed not. Abbot, check on Heir Black. Locke, Fiddlewood, assist, but be smart about it. Rest of you, give Lord Black and myself some space.”

 

With a strangely floaty mind, he pauses to consider - how long has this day been, already? The morning - the bittersweet morning of his grandchildren moving in, true Blacks, what his son should have been - can’t have been any sooner than a week ago, right? His lovely, supremely disinterested wife, would laugh at him if she could summon up enough attention - Circe’s sake, man. Focus.

 

“-ord Black?”

 

“Do excuse me,” he says, entirely too weary to try to bluff. “My mind wandered.”

 

“Of course, Lord Black.” Hums Shacklebolt. “I merely wanted to - warn you, I suppose. There will be no keeping this case quiet. I would like to give you a full guarantee that my team will keep quiet. They will not. Locke will, as will Abbott, Fiddlewood and a few others. Myself, naturally. Not all. If you try to fight the media, you will lose. What are Heir Black’s plans?”

 

The words take a while to meander through the fog that has become his mind, and for a moment, an insatiable urge fills him to just - not be strong, to be honest with this man. To sit, and sigh and cry, and be an old man that he is.

 

It passes like he always does, after a few moments.

 

“I imagine Auror - Starling, was it? Has already sold the story to the Prophet. It is noble of you to warn me, Auror Shacklebolt, but I am aware of just how much gold is turned on stories like these. Ex-heir attacks Heir, or some such. I am entirely too old to delude myself in these matters.” He pauses for a moment and scrutinizes the Auror waiting patiently for the point. Fair enough, he’s especially long-winded today. “I would just ask you to keep the medical information out of it. Curse the information if you have to. I will not have my grandson’s medical file be used to sell papers.”

 

Shacklebolt doesn’t twitch so much as a muscle. “I will try, of course. I will not succeed. I am limited by the law. For some of them, harming House of Black will be more important than keeping their Auror positions. I will fire them, I will fine them, but there is little else I can use as a deterrent.”

 

“Giving personal information of a minor - that’s an offence punishable by law.”

 

The Auror cocks his head. “Do you think the trial will be a private one? Really?”

 

Of course it won’t be. In this, Sirius is harmed by his name. A mudblood child would be easily afforded the dignity of a closed session. Sirius will be torn up and down.

 

“It might.” He says halfheartedly. “I can petition the Wizengamot.”

 

“And House Shacklebolt will stand with you. You won’t get it. You know you won’t. Let’s not waste time -”

 

The Auror breaks off in the middle of his sentence, with an uncharacteristically readable twitch of exasperation. Arcturus follows the man’s gaze to - Regulus who is spitting venom at an Auror, standing in front of Sirius like a little chimaera.

 

“Excuse me, Lord Black. It seems my Aurors have, in fact, reverted to pre-Hogwarts years.”

 

“By all means.” He says absently. He considers following, but as the second wave of dizziness hits him, he decides Shacklebolt is more than competent enough to handle this. He needs to think.

 

A political hurricane is brewing, everyone knows it. The Mudbloods are dissatisfied, the Halfbloods are dissatisfied, the Purebloods are dissatisfied. House of Black needs to be strong, and their leadership consists of an objectively mediocre Lord, and a potentially crippled Heir.

 

Sirius is still not even reached the hospital, they don’t know what the torture has done to his mind, and Cruciatus-damage isn’t fixable. The Prophet is probably already printing the lurid special edition, a Black Scandal of the generation.

 

The politics of it - it would be a fine world where he could simply bid farewell to the politics, and focus on keeping his immediate family alive and with a shred of dignity intact. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t do them any favours if he spared them a little pain now, and sentenced them to a disaster later. Everything that the House of Black does is political, by nature. If they rise to sue the Ministry for exposing private information of the minor, the other Houses will hamstring them happily. If they sue the Prophet, the same will happen.

 

No, a decisive step needs to be taken. Risks need to be assessed. A plan has to be put in place before Sirius goes to Hogwarts. If, indeed, he is able to go.

 

Great Lady, but his head hurts.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Itachi POV

 

 

His mind is - flabby.

 

What?

 

The bizarre adjective sizzles in his mind, and the state between sleep and wake crumbles further.

 

It’s not, he admits, a bad descriptor. His mind does feel flabby. Slow, filled with redundant material.

 

Open your eyes.

 

Why?

 

Open. Just. Open.

 

Oh, alright.

 

He cracks his eyes open and blinks stupidly. What now.

 

Well, suggests his mind, why don’t you try to remember where you are, why you’re here, and what happened in the past twelve hours?

 

Why am I even talking to myself?

 

“Why am I even talking to myself?”

 

Whoops - did I say that out loud?

 

“That would be the potions.” Answers the room.

 

“Oh - oh - how delightful.” He says. It’s a good thing he had opened his eyes, or he might have never met a talking room. “Merry meet, honoured room. Have we been properly introduced?”

 

“Oh, we’ve been introduced.” Says the room. “Can you move your head?”

 

“Possibly. Why?” He asks. “And where would your vocal apparatus be? In the walls?”

 

“Turn your head to the left, and I will explain.”

 

That’s an offer no man can refuse. To learn about the speech mechanisms of a room - why, it’s extraordinary.

 

“Oh, Regulus,” He says eyes widening. “Have you met the honoured room?” He turns his head back as it was. “Honored room, may I introduce Regulus Black, a god among brothers, an emperor among scholars.”

 

“You weren’t talking to the room, ‘Tachi. You were talking to me. Now turn your head and look at me.”

 

Oh.

 

“You’re a much better option than a room, brother.” He pauses. “It would have been fascinating to speak to a room, but on the whole, I would much rather speak to you. No matter where the room’s vocal box might be.”

 

“Well, your tongue seems to be working fine.” Says his brother, apropos of nothing.

 

“I should hope so. It’s not my vocal box that is in question, bright-star. It’s the rooms!”

 

Regulus sighs, but he’s smiling, so that means it’s okay. Itachi smiles back.

 

“No, no, no, brother. You smile, then I smile, then you keep smiling. That’s how it goes!” He whines, mourning the swift disappearance of the lovely expression.

 

“How are you feeling, ‘Tachi?” His brother doesn’t smile, but his eyes are less sad, which is not good, but good enough.

 

“Stupid. Flabby. Like I am a skin-suit filed by two warring factions of stupid, flabby hamsters. The ones in my head are lazy and unmotivated and want to grow ever stupider and flabbier. Their enemies are the hamsters in my arms and legs who want to grow lean and strong and are very angry about this. Yeah, that about covers it.”

 

“Alright, that’s - not ideal. But I promise it’s temporary. You will feel much better when you wake up next.”

 

Itachi frowns. There is something - not. There is something not about Regulus. He reaches for his magic - it shrieks at him, wounded and afraid.

 

“Reg - wha-” is all he has time to say before dark takes him.

 


 

Well, that was fucking weird, he thinks upon coming back to consciousness.

 

Ow, is the second thought.

 

“On the whole, I might prefer the potions.” He croaks.

 

“I do not.” Says Regulus. Ouch. His brother is not in a joking mood.

 

Yeah, okay. Fair enough.

 

He turns his head slowly, nursing his headache.

 

“‘Lo, bright-star. How are you holding up.”

 

Regulus looks - flattened. Like he was eaten though by worry and terror, leaving behind the raw centre.

 

“It’s Monday evening, brother. How do you think?”

 

“I don’t know.” He says simply. “I don’t know what has happened. To me, to you, to Grandfather. Speaking of, where is Kreacher?”

 

“With the Aurors.”

 

“Excuse me?” He asks, honestly surprised.

 

“I don’t know. Officially they’re gathering evidence that Kreacher can wriggle through Wards. Unofficially - who knows? It could be some sort of bribe, he could be a witness, I don’t know. ”

 

“What is going on?” His memories may be fuzzy, but from where he’s standing, the law should firmly be on his side.

 

“I don’t know. Nobody will tell me anything. Grandfather is meeting with a lot of Lords, nobody will let me see the paper. Our room is guarded by a team of hit-wizards and another team of private security. I’ve been here for over thirty hours. Kreacher was whisked away more than a day ago and you - you -”

 

Yeah, okay, whatever happened is not important. “Come here, dear-heart.” He says. “I would levitate you if I could, but something tells me I shouldn’t do much magic just yet.”

 

Regulus looks like he is so sanded down, that he doesn’t know what he wants, anymore.

 

“Up, up. Apart from the headache, I feel fine. I can handle cuddling with my little brother.”

 

A hollow laugh escapes from Regulus. “You almost died, you know.” He says, climbing up the bed slowly. “You were mutilated. The doctor had to regrow parts of you. Your nerves might never heal. And the healers kept telling me it’s highly likely your mind is broken for good.”

 

Amateurs.

 

“I’m sorry, little brother.” He says. There is nothing more to say, really.

 

“I’m so angry with you.” Whispers Regulus. “You could have run, you could have hidden. You didn’t even try. You sent Kreacher away and went to fight a grown man.”

 

There is a lot he could say to that. A lot of excuses and explanations and a lot of them would even be his right to say. In the end, though, Regulus is more right than he knows. Even if he could have run, even if they escaped the Wards, at that time, who’s to say he would have?

 

“That’s okay. It was a really stupid thing to do.”

 

“You don’t have the same powers anymore. You don’t have the physical enhancement, the all-seeing eyes, the optimal body for a physical fighter. You’re just a kid here. You could have died. You could have left me alone. You could have died.”

 

The flood of self-loathing hits, and leaves devastation in its wake. You had one job to do. You had to keep Regulus safe, and away from all this shit. And you didn’t. You let him believe you would always protect him, and you let him down.

 

He’s crying now -

 

- because of you -

 

- are you -

 

- happy now-

 

-  m u r d e r e r  -

 

 


 

 

Arcturus POV

 

 

Arcturus gets summoned by healers in the middle of a meeting with Lord Malfoy and Lord Nott.

 

Sirius.

 

“Don’t.” He says as his feet touch the floo-room of St. Mungos. He immediately starts a brisk walk to Sirius’s wing, a trail of clucking incompetents in his wake. “I am talking. When I say 'go', you will inform me what latest malady has happened to my Heir in your care. After that, I will inspect him myself. If I do not like what I see, or what I hear, the wrath of House of Black will crush this puny little building. Alright. Go.”

 

The healers are quiet for a moment, trying to figure out if he’s joking or not. Finally, a Junior Healer speaks with a faintly irritated tone. “Heir Black has fallen into a severe panic attack, after conversing with his brother. His body was still weak from all the procedures and nerve damage from the leftover dark magic. His heart went into tachycardia, and our healers managed to stop the attack before it progressed into cardiac arrest. We sedated him with dreamless sleep, and separated him from Mister Regulus Black who confirmed he caused the attack.”

 

“Thank you, Healer Abernathy.” He says. “I need to speak to my grandson. If everything is as you say, my gratitude for saving my Heir’s life will be suitably expressed.”

 

“Of- of course.” The Healer stumbles her words slightly. Perhaps she didn’t expect him to know her name. As if he would ever let a healer work on his Heir that he didn’t have a complete file on.

 

“I will find you when I need you. Merry part.” He says and slams the door in their faces.

 

The two security teams jump on making sure he is who he says he is. To save the time, he summons a lick of Family Magic, enough to form a ghostly crest of House Black. That is usually enough to prove his identity, but the enterprising hit-wizard hits the conjuration with a finite- to check if it’s a simple illusion. Clever.

 

“Just take these, sir, and you’re good to visit our employer.”

 

The man hands him two pills - muggle aspirin.

 

“What is your name, young man.” He asks, after swallowing down the painkillers. The man doesn’t answer him, staring professionally at him. He waits as patiently as he can for a long six minutes, thus proving he is not, in fact under polyjuice.

 

“Garnall Prott, Lord Black,” the hit-wizard says.

 

A wizarding name. A half-blood at least. Good.

 

“Excellent thinking. I will speak to you when I get some time. Merry part.”

 

And he will. Not many would remember salicylic acid is fatal when combined with Boomslang skin.

 

No time for that now, though. He needs to deal with the latest drama before his next meeting, Merlin preserve them.

 

Regulus is a tiny ball of misery, curled up in an arm-chair, in an otherwise empty patient-room. The elf sits beside him, to the right, smoothing the boy's hair.

 

“Sirius will be fine, in case you weren’t informed.” Let’s open with the essentials.

 

“Kreacher told me.” Rasps the boy.

 

“Good. Now - what happened.”

 

He listens to the whole sorry affair and surpasses the first couple of things that come to mind. Regulus is just a child. They both are. He reminds himself firmly. How on earth is Arcturus the one who has to explain this? The two brothers were always so close, so perfectly in sync, he honestly thought this never could have happened.

 

“That was ill-done of you. It’s not your brother's fault he is injured.”

 

“It is, though.”

 

He blinks, taken aback. He honestly hadn’t expected that. Desperate denial, or tearful apologies, yes. Not this combative, angry little lion. “He didn’t have to fight all the time.” Continues Regulus. “He could have run.”

 

“Run where, exactly?” He asks, pushing down the incredulity. “The elf squeezed through the wards. Sirius could never have managed the same. And even if he did - do you fault him for defending himself?”

 

A sneer looks - bad - on the child. There's a little too much desperation in it. Too much poison. Walburga shines from the twisted lips and the cold, Black eyes.

 

“Elf, leave us. This is a conversation for family.” He says. The blasted creature doesn’t even look at him.

 

“Kreacher is family.” The boy spits. A sneer twists Arcturus’s lips, but he keeps quiet. If Regulus wants to talk, he has named his terms. “Please, Kreacher, if you don’t mind.” Says Regulus quietly, while glaring at Arcturus with a decent amount of fire for how tired he likely is.

 

“I will be in the shadows.” Says the creature and winks out of view.

 

Much better. “Now,” says Arcturus. “It sounds to me like you’re angry at your brother for not being invulnerable. Which is ridiculous. I don’t know much about either one of you, yes, but I will swear on my magic the boy had always done his best by you. He went to the house to get your things.”

 

Regulus remains stubbornly quiet. Children.

 

“In either case, unless you wanted to kill him, there are better moments to express your sentiments, as childish as they might be. Sirius’s nervous system is severely compromised. The healers had to sedate him to prevent cardiac arrest.”

 

Quiet.

 

“Well, I suppose you will have time to think about it. Sirius goes to Hogwarts tomorrow, after all. You can continue your completely justified diatribe when he returns home for Yule.”

 

“What - no -” There you are. “You can’t - he can’t go - he’s sick - you said -”

 

“He has to go.” He says over the stuttering firmly. “He is the Heir to House Black. You both orchestrated the event. Well, Heir to House Black doesn’t get to show weakness, less than a week after being proclaimed Heir. He will go to Hogwarts, and he will excel. There is no other option.”

 

“You - Grandfather, please - he can’t go - “

 

“He can and he will. The teachers will be notified he is not to use magic for the first few weeks, and that his health is sub-optimal. That is as much as I can do.”

 

“But -”

 

“But nothing. The two of you have set the stakes of this game, you have placed the rules, and you have played your hand. It is nobody’s fault but your own, that you lost.”

 

“This is not a game!” Snaps Regulus. “This is his life!”

 

“Yes. And both of you could have thought about that before setting yourself up to fail. You could have come to me, months ago. Years ago. You could have asked me to remove you from your parents’ care. But you did not. You chose to publicly back me into a corner, and force me to name your brother Heir. Well, now that he is the Heir, he has to fulfil the obligations of one. I will not allow two children to destroy our House so easily.”

 

Regulus rears back as if slapped, but it doesn’t hold him back for long.

 

“We shouldn’t have to ask to not be abused! You should have stepped in a long time ago, you should have dealt with them, helped us! What good is a Noble House if it leaves the children to fend for themselves.”

 

He blinks through the pang in his chest. That was a good point and a solid hit. The boy’s instincts are very good. He knows how to target his blows. Poor Sirius. 

 

“Yes, I should have. Nobody is blameless in this. I am, as the only adult,  the most to blame. That doesn’t change the situation, however.”

 

“Yes, it does! Why are you punishing Sirius for your mistakes?”

 

“Punishing?” He inhales deeply. “Child, I am not punishing anyone. I would have gladly kept the boy in Castle Black for another decade. That is simply not possible. He needs to show he is alive, he is strong and that House of Black is still to be reckoned with. This scandal is already almost impossible to handle. The papers are crucifying us. Our enemies howl at our gates. There is more at stake here than just us three. Britain is at the cusp of civil war, idiot child. We cannot afford to be weak when the wolves come.”

 

Regulus glares at him, but can’t think of anything to say.

 

“Listen, child. Sirius will be going to Hogwarts. That is beyond your control. Consider that it will be good for him to go, too.”

 

“No, it won’t. He should stay here, with me. With Kreacher.” He says stubborn and defiant. The fire in him. If only it was tempered with a little wisdom. He’s only nine, the Lord consoles himself. It will come.

 

“You just sent him into cardiac arrest, Regulus. I wouldn’t leave him with you either way.”

 

“I-”

 

“No. I have spent more time than I can afford arguing with you. I have been doing you the honour of treating you like an adult since the moment I have met you. If you continue along these lines, I will not continue. Think before you speak, and think before you accuse. You are angry at me, and you have every reason to be. You are angry with your brother, with no reason, other than worry. But antagonizing me is a stupid move. You already have little power on your own - you are not the genius Heir, you are not the powerful Lord. You are just a little boy. Your power is your brother, and your power is me. But you are pushing away your brother out of pride and stubbornness, and you are antagonizing me out of spite and righteousness. Soon you will only have your house-elf. That is not where you want to be.”

 

“Now, I have a meeting with Lady Longbottom and Lord Shacklebolt, where I will try to cajole them into voting with us to keep the press out of the trial and sparing Sirius at least a little pain. Think about what you want, child, and how you plan to get there.”

 

 


 

 

Regulus POV

 

 

Lord fucking Black leaves the room - leaves him alone - and Regulus - Regulus -

 

There is a fog in his mind, a monster in his stomach that just - takes over. The anger and the fear and the pain - they twist together and form a monster that just wants to destroy everything.

 

He - he doesn’t know what to do - he’s -

 

This is not him - this is not Regulus - Regulus is the smart one - Regulus is the peaceful one -

 

Regulus has just spit on every one of his family members.

 

No - no - they’re wrong - they’re all wrong - they’re all stupid and wrong and they all leave me -

 

“Kreacher,” he gasps. “Kreacher, please, please-”

 

“I am here, bright-star.” Kreacher’s voice is a balm, a soothing waterfall that quenches the sick fire burning him from inside. He buries his head in the elf’s lap, and pretends for just a moment nothing at all is out of the ordinary. That he is having a normal evening, sitting next to the fire, Kreacher petting his hair.

 

“Was he - is Grandfather - is he right - Kreacher did I - did I -”

 

Kreacher’s silence is damning.

 

He is lying, seethes the monster. He is lying to hurt you. He is like all of them.

 

Stop it - stop it - stop it -

 

“Stop it,” he says out loud - maybe it will help - maybe it will be louder.

 

“Stop what, little star?” Says Kreacher gently. His hand doesn’t falter for a second, slowly carding through the disgusting, greasy hair.

 

“Make it stop, Kreacher,” He begs. “Please, make me stop.”

 

“I cannot, dear-heart. I do not know how.”

 

“I am just - I am just so - so angry -”

 

“Yes,” Kreacher says.

 

“It’s not - it’s not normal - I can’t think - I can’t - “

 

“You are a Black, dear-heart. You are passionate, and brave, and strong. But you are also very young.”

 

Rage surges through him so strong it blacks out his vision, and his jaw itches, the overwhelming urge to bite something - bite down on something - make something bleed -

 

“I am sorry you do not like the truth, my child, but it is the truth. I cannot help you with this. Even elf-magic cannot help you fight your own demons.”

 

The demon - the monster - that is him? - “It’s not - it’s not me - I would never have -”

 

Kreacher remains silent and continues to smooth his hand through his hair.

 

“It’s not -” he begs. “It can’t be-”

 

“You are not perfect. You have darkness in you. Everyone does. Yours just grew too big too quick, and nobody taught you how to handle it.”

 

Merlin, but the elf sound condescending, talking down to him like it even knows anything, like it even knows how to be human -

 

Horrified at himself, he stops the disgusting thought.

 

“I’m - I’m scared Kreacher - I - I don’t mean to say these things - I don’t mean to think these things - I - this isn’t me -”

 

“I am scared too, my child. I am sad too. I cannot help you, and I wish to more than anything. Both of my shining stars are in pain, calling for help, and there is nothing for old Kreacher to do but be by their side and hope.”

 

“I’m - I’m sorry.” It hurts beyond anything to say that.

 

“I know, bright-star. I am sorry too.”

 


 

Chapter Text

He wakes up - oddly. Whatever they drugged him with, it was damn powerful, and also the best damn thing he has ever felt. His sleep isn’t restful, as a rule. His dreams are plagued with death and ruin and all the unresolved issues he has amassed over the years.

 

Dreamless sleep, most likely. He can damn well see why it’s classified as highly addictive. If Itachi didn’t have duties, he knows how he would spend his days - a cauldron of dreamless sleep, a peaceful transition into the eternal nothingness.

 

“While letting you rest would be my preference, there is simply no time for it.”

 

Who - Arcturus.

 

“Where is Regulus?” He asks. Let’s establish the necessities first.

 

“Regulus is hale and healthy, if not in the best of spirits. You have, I am sorry to say, more pressing worries.”

 

Itachi smiles faintly. He has truly become free with his facial expressions. Yet another sign of improvement to his previous life. “Nothing is more pressing than Regulus.” He pauses for a moment. “Like I imagine nothing is more pressing than Dorea.”

 

A huff of displaced air, that might have been a laugh. It seems Arcturus is trying hard to signal his emotions more clearly. Nice of him.

 

“Fair point. The healers tell me you should be all healed up, physically speaking. Are you?”

 

“Well,” he says, taking stock of his condition. The artificial calm still holds - or maybe it’s just his mind and body that is fresh out of fucks to give. Truly, he has emoted enough for the entire month. “Let’s see.”

 

The Lord is right, his body is more or less perfectly healthy. There is a visible tremor in his hands, which is annoying, and he’s weak as a kitten, but other than that - nothing.

 

“Healers had done good work.” They have. “Other than the unavoidable aftereffects, I am whole.”

 

“Excellent. We have a difficult conversation, that must be had. I would have your complete honesty. I offer my own in turn.”

 

Itachi takes a moment to settle into a sitting position, propped out by a mountain of pillows. For the first time, he looks at Arcturus. There is something about his tone that is - not concerning, perhaps, but not calming either.

 

The Lord looks a rich aristocrat’s version or exhausted. Perfectly groomed, tall and unbent, only the sunken eyes and battle-light in his eyes betray his less-than-stellar mood.

 

“I try to be frank with you when I can,” Itachi says honestly. “I see no reason why I would stop doing that now.”

 

“Good enough. Now. To the best of your knowledge, are you capable of going to Hogwarts tomorrow?”

 

Itachi blinks. “Of course I’m going to Hogwarts. I am Heir Black. Heir Black that has likely murdered his father. Either I am going to Hogwarts or I am going to the Goblins to get myself disinherited before going to the ground for a decade or so until the air settles.”

 

Something unclenches in the Lord, a tension that wasn’t visible until it was released. “Circe, it is a joy to talk to someone with sense. Alright. I will be blunt. The House of Black is under considerable fire. Your - altercation - with Orion has been leaked to the press practically before the Wards fell. Speculation is rife - the most sensationalist variety of drivel of course.”

 

The press is still something that Itachi is getting used to, honestly. He had encountered the Daily Prophet for the first time at Castle Black and was morbidly fascinated by the concept. Nothing similar would ever be allowed in Konoha.

 

“I imagine my going to Hogwarts ostensibly whole and healthy will dispel a lot of those rumours.” He says reasonably.

 

Arcturus looks back at him, with a faint look of surprise. That wasn’t the correct answer.

 

“I - don’t care?” He tries, going in blind, as it were. No? Try another approach. “Or - I do care, very much, but am certain that it will die down?”

 

Arcturus’s lip twitches, and he finally sits down into a wide, cushy armchair next to Itachi’s bed. Instead of the cultured, controlled pose, he sits with his knees wide apart, leaning his elbows on his legs, in a shockingly casual sprawl.

 

“Your competence in the face of what would horrify most children is as gratifying as it is disturbing. Not that it doesn’t simplify the matter. Alright. You do not care. That resolves one significant issue. I was concerned that the weight of public opinion would be too stressful. Nevertheless - a warning. You have led a very sheltered life, in a lot of ways, and to be the centre of attention will be daunting.”

 

Itachi raises a sceptical eyebrow. Really, now? “I am a newly-named, Heir Black, having supplanted my father who I have been feuding with for years. I am an established prodigy, from a notoriously Dark House, in a school lead by the Leader of the Light. Are we pretending that I wouldn’t have been the centre of attention either way?”

 

“True.” The Lord leans back into his armchair. “This conversation alone has alleviated a lot of my worries, Sirius. Your mental state was - uncertain. I was prepared to have to force you to go to Hogwarts. The politics of this disaster are - truly unfortunate.”

 

“Tell me.”

 

After a long scrutinizing look, the Lord inclines his head. “Alright. How aware are you of the political situation in Britain right now?”

 

“Not very.” He says, tone wry. “It’s not what you might call my sphere of interest.”

 

“It had better become one, Heir Black,” Arcturus says with a faint smirk. “I won’t go into details. But there is a man - Lord Riddle - that has been - starting a movement, for lack of a better term. Understand, nobody is satisfied with the current regime. The Dark Purebloods especially. And Riddle - he is a bit like you. Powerful, charismatic, ferociously magically gifted. Witches and wizards have been flocking to him for a good couple of years. Everybody who is anybody knows that something is coming. The Light is trenching in, solidifying their power, and the Dark is gearing for a fight.”

 

Well, this is depressingly familiar.

 

“And where do we stand?” He asks, proud of how cool his voice is. “House of Black is the darkest of the Dark. Where are we in this little war?”

 

Arcturus meets his eyes, and for perhaps the first time real understanding passes between them. “I would have kept us neutral, as long as I could. However - now. I do not know. I cannot see how we can afford not picking a side.”

 

A truly interesting subject.

 

“I think I have a solid grasp on Lord Riddle. He seems a violent man, but a reasonable one. What are the other sides?”

 

Arcturus is quiet for a moment. It is gratifying he takes Itachi seriously. “Dumbledore leads the Light Purebloods. Riddle has a decent grasp on the Dark Purebloods. Halfbloods are - in-between, and nobody cares about the Mudbloods.”

 

“Oh?” Now, this is odd. “Isn’t Dumbledore a champion for Muggleborn rights?”

 

Arcturus tosses his head, in a very equine gesture. “He pretends to. Most of the measures he puts in place don’t empower Mudbloods but take power away from the Purebloods. Most notably, Dark Purebloods. The Light Purebloods have already spent a lot of their power. Only few still own their ancestral land, their artefacts and such. It’s in Dumbledore’s best interest to hamstring us to by instituting measures that would ostensibly limit everyone, when in practice only affecting us.”

 

“A solid strategy.” Hums Itachi. “And the creatures? Vampires, Werewolves, Veela and such?”

 

“The Light won’t have anything to do with so-called ‘Dark’ creatures. And the few creatures they haven’t labelled as ‘dark’, Centaurs, Merfolk, and such, don’t want anything to do with wizards.”

 

The conversation falls into a natural pause, both of them lost in thought.

 

“The way I see it,” Says Itachi slowly. “Riddle is a reasonable man. For now, I would play both sides, and keep signalling our neutrality as much as possible up to and including inscribing it on our crest. The key will be becoming indispensable to both sides.”

 

“The thought had occurred to me. I doubt that I can pull it off, honestly.” Says Arcturus blankly. “I am not a good Lord. Melania is not a good Lady. We put on a reasonably good show, but she doesn’t care about anything that isn’t her work, and I am a miserable old misanthrope who wants to be left alone in my Castle. People confuse me, my temper runs away from me if I am not in full control. Then there is the matter of the current scandal. Nobody wants a weak ally, and neither side will take us - or offer anything approaching favourable terms - if it’s obvious we need them.”

 

Hmm.

 

“Aunt Cassie.” He says. Now that is a good idea. “Aunt Cassie and Aunt Dorea. Put Dorea in the Wizengamot, and Cassie in charge of the administrative side of House of Black.” He pauses, spinning the thought as far as it can go. “As for the scandal, why are we weak, exactly? You show your ruthlessness by being true to your beliefs, even with your son. I will go to Hogwarts whole and healthy and show that a duel with a grown Wizard has not disqualified me. We bluff, is my point. The papers are free to print their drivel, and we will stay out of it, and be the better men.”

 

Arcturus sighs. “Neither Dorea nor Cassie will thank me from uprooting them from their comfortable lives. I try to keep out of private business whenever I can. But in the immediate future, we agree on how to proceed. The trial and the subsequent affair will be nasty, but we ignore it all and pretend it’s beneath note. I will inform the family of how to proceed. A lot of it will be on you. Reporters will harass you, your classmates will give interviews. You need to be entirely beyond reproach.”

 

“Will I be necessary for the trial?”

 

“It seems unavoidable.” Arcturus pauses, regulating his breath like a professional. “I’ve been talking with Lords and Ladies in the Wizengamot about a motion to keep the reporters out of the trial. We will not succeed. Dumbledore will be the first one to refuse, and so will a large swathe of Neutrals. Lady Longbottom will, thanks to you. Lord Shacklebolt will, because of his ties to law enforcement. Dark Purebloods might, but they might not.”

 

Well, the only path forward seems obvious to Itachi, but he gives the words a little thought just in case. “Don’t waste your political capital on it. Let the reporters do as they will - we have nothing to hide. I didn’t use Black magic - I didn’t even use Dark magic. We can spin it.”

 

A ripple of indignation tenses the Lord’s shoulders, and fury shades the cheekbones with a bit of colour. “It is perverse. You’re underage. No matter how you look at it, to drag you through the papers is the height of dishonour.”

 

Itachi hums. “Then argue for them being censored in what they can write, but allow them to write it. That way we have the moral high-ground either way. We’re not standing in the way of truth, we’re not hiding anything, we just want to protect a child’s privacy within reason. I’m sure you can write a suitably indignant statement.”

 

“This is exhausting.” Arcturus sighs. “Moving on from endless circles - Regulus. I am tempted to tell you to stay away from him until tomorrow. Hogwarts express leaves at eleven. We cannot afford another panic attack that turns into heart failure.”

 

Itachi grimaces. “I have to see him. I will consent to a calming draught. Speaking of - what can I expect at Hogwarts? Will my instructors be informed?”

 

Arcturus closes his eyes briefly, slumping back even more. It’s nice that the Lord has decided to drop the haughty Pureblood Lord persona. Itachi is starting to enjoy this informal, petulant man.

 

“I have a meeting scheduled with the Deputy Headmistress in twenty minutes.”

 

Itachi pauses, thinking. Wouldn’t it be -

 

“You could bring her here? So she can see me and know that you’re not manipulating her for whatever reason. It would be good to have her on our side.”

 

Arcturus gives him a flat look, but there is curiosity there too.

 

“Minerva McGonagall is never going to be on our side. But your suggestion is not a bad one. You’re, quite demonstrably, much better with people than I am. This will also underline that you are still seriously ill.”

 

“But not so ill to not be able to attend the lessons. Speaking of, will I be able to attend lessons?”

 

A hum of amused distress. “As long as you stay away from using magic for at least three weeks.” Says Arcturus. “Your classes don’t start incorporating magic until October anyway, so that shouldn’t affect you any.”

 

“Well, then. It seems the plan is set. The Deputy will meet with us here, we will convince her I am but an injured lost lamb in need of patience and understanding. We ignore the sandal and the gossip until let’s say - late October, early November, then before Christmas we send out a public statement, saying how this is all really gauche, and really, the Wizarding Public should be ashamed a personal tragedy is used to sell newspapers. I come back for holidays, we throw Riddle his event, and finish the year with glory and triumph.”

 

“Excuse me?” Asks Arcturus, eyes wide. “Minerva McGonagall is not in any way a blithering imbecile, and will under no circumstances consider you a lost lamb. More importantly, what is this about Riddle? Who is in no way a Lord?”

 

Ah.

 

He widens his eyes and arranges his muscles in the most innocent manner he can, tilting his head just-so. “I may have, to avoid incurring a future unspecified debt to Lord Riddle, promised to host an event in his honour at Castle Black. Did I not mention that?”

 

Arcturus looks back at him in mute horror.

 

“Oh come now,” he waves his hand. “It’s far from the worst thing I’ve done.”

 

“And you - you talk about neutrality - Sirius, for goodness’ sake -”

 

“It’s fine - no, really - it’s all a part of the plan.” Time for some wild fucking improv. “We host this event for Lord Riddle, around Yule, but then, then we host another event for Lady Longbottom the following season, to celebrate her Heir’s Coming of Age.” Oh wow, this is not going so badly. More, more. “We show we are willing to actively support both sides and not only the winner.” Aaaand a little more. “We’re safest if we show ourselves as reliable, willing to openly stand with either side.”

 

Arcturus watches him for a long moment, not saying a word. “You Merlin-blessed maniac. You’ve made that whole speech up on the spot, haven’t you? Riddle caught you flatfooted, and you liked him enough to honour the debt. You actually like that reptilian nightmare.”

 

Itachi tilts his head a bit, studying the Lord. “Well. Yes. And, in the spirit of honesty, I initially offered to sneak him into the Library for a day. The event was his idea.” He stretches his lips in a smile, theatric, yes, but refreshingly honest. He’s enjoying the conversation. This Lord Black is excellent company.

 

Arcturus answering smile has a somewhat defeated cast to it. “That is the definition of a worry for a later time. Did you know who he was before you offered him a platform? That he is the leader of a rising political faction?”

 

Itachi looks back to what he has come to know about the enigmatic man, aptly named Riddle, and see-saws his hand. “Not really. But the man has an unmistakably commanding presence, and all the other Pureblood Lords defer to him unquestionably. Plus his magic is a wonder.”

 

“They would.” Grumbles Arcturus. “The current continent of Lords - Malfoy, Nott, LeStrange, they all were all more or less in the same generation as Riddle. He started young.”

 

Much like you, hangs in the air, observed but unaddressed.

 

“As fascinating as Lord Riddle is - and he really, really is - you have a Deputy to fetch. Do you mind summoning me some attire that isn’t - this?”

 

“Fine, nightmare-child. I need to be away from you for a few minutes anyhow. Try not to murder anyone, befriend any current or future terrorists, or start any riots, if you please.”

 

“I will endeavour to contain myself.”

 

 


 

 

Minerva McGonagall is the epitome of a beautiful woman that dares you to mention or even acknowledge that fact. In many ways, she reminds Itachi of Yūgao, and he bets that she, like Yūgao leaves behind a trail of destruction when provoked. Fair, but deadly, and with a fiery temper to match the dark-auburn locks.

 

She strides into the room with brisk steps, walking next to (but very deliberately not with) Arcturus. Her age is in that indeterminate span between twenty and sixty. Judging by the real respect Arcturus pays her, and how naturally she accepts it as her due, she is likely a Pureblood Lady of some importance.

 

“Merry meet, Lady McGonagall.” He bows as best he can in his prone position.

 

“Merry meet, Heir Black.” Her nod is as brisk and no-nonsense as the rest of her. Itachi might be enchanted by it all. “For today, the appellation suits. After this day, do address me as Professor? There are rules about how the traditional portion of our students goes about their days without causing unnecessary disruptions to the learning. Not everyone observes the same practices as we do, after all.”

 

Her teaching profession shines though, he notes with admiration. Not a minute into the conversation and she has managed to spin an informative and valuable lesson.

 

“To get back to the matter at hand, your Lord Grandfather has been very cryptic about the nature of your condition. I will not even comment on your security detail. Why the secrecy and what needs to be done to facilitate a productive time at Hogwarts?”

 

He casts his eyes to Arcturus. The Lord’s shoulders twitch at him in a distinctly helpless fashion. He’s on his own, here.

 

“As you say, Lady McGonagall. The secrecy is for my sake. I was involved in an altercation with my former guardian, Mr Orion Black and to a lesser extend Walburga Black. The Aurors have it well in hand, but my Grandfather and I thought it best to inform you directly. Hogwarts will be a target of heavy media attention in the next few months.”

 

It’s been a while since Itachi has interacted with an adult not so carefully guarded as Dark Purebloods. The Lady is professional but comparatively, her emotions are all but transparent. Shock, anger, disgust, determination cycle over her face.

 

“I assure you, Heir Black, that Hogwarts and her staff are more than able to fend off reporters. Are you fit to start the semester? There is precedent for a delay, if necessary.”

 

Itachi smiles his most inviting smile. “The Healers have given me a go-ahead, my Lady. With some caveats, which will be in the report I will hand in tomorrow, I am willing and able to sit the lessons. Most of our worries consist of my - reception, let’s say. The Prophet is incentivized to be sensational. There will be a great deal written about me and Lord Black that is - not encumbered by traditional means of truth-seeking. I suppose in the end we would like some reassurance I will not be unduly harassed by students or staff, because of this incident.”

 

The longer the monologue goes on, the more shocked at himself he becomes. Where is this stream of bullshit coming from? Who is this well-spoken, slick-worded smarmy asshole, and what has he done with the surly, misanthropic, socially anxious head-case?

 

“I expect that report on my desk by the end of tomorrow, Heir Black. As for your worries, they aren’t unreasonable or unfounded. The staff will do what they can, but ultimately we cannot outlaw unkind words.”

 

“My lady,” he says. “I do not put much stock in the opinion of my peers. I would simply ask to keep the - disagreements - verbal.”

 

She levels a steady look his way. “I will guarantee the perpetrators will be punished appropriately. Some might try to escalate, I suppose. Some always do. But most of what you can expect will be verbal and social. In that, teachers’ interference would be to your detriment, I think.”

 

“Thank you for your understanding, my Lady.”

 

“Indeed. Merry part, Heir Black. Lord Black.”

 

 


 

 

Regulus refuses to talk to him.

 

Kreacher dragged him to Itachi’s room, but can’t force him to talk.

 

Honestly, Itachi doesn’t want to force him to talk. He is aware of just how precarious his mind is right now. Experienced or not, Dark magic is Dark magic. The wounds are there. As his recent tumble into heart failure can attest, his body cannot follow the demands of his lifestyle. How fucking nostalgic.

 

What he said to Arcturus is true. Hogwarts is non-negotiable. He has explored their options, should they go on the run, and they are not excellent. Once disinherited, they become wards of the Ministry, and thus bargaining chips for the vultures there, to be handed out to the highest bidder.

 

The would have to run from the Wizarding world entirely.

 

Living in the wilds should be left as the absolute last resort. He doesn't know much about borders between magical countries, but they would likely be guarded by some sort of magic or another. Which leaves them trapped in Britain. Most of the British territory is parcelled between the Noble houses and warded to match. That would leave just unclaimed territory and the non-magical world. Two young, valuable boys out in the open would be the target for a whole lot of unsavoury characters, human and creature alike. And recent events have shown how unprepared they are to face such threats on their own.

 

Their best bet would be to seek refuge in one of the creature enclaves. The Goblins might shelter them? He doesn’t doubt that their price would be high and that one or both of them would end up bound in servitude for quite a few years. Neither of Black children would do well in contractual servitude, voluntary or not. The centaurs might accept them, as might the vampires if they agree to be turned. The forests of Ireland are especially populated with dryads and nymphs of all shapes and sizes which could be bargained with perhaps. And of course, there are the mythical Seelie and Unseelie Courts, the mere thought of which sends dread trickling down his spine.

 

Its a sea of bad options, in short. In contrast, there is the current arrangement. Regulus stays behind some of the strongest, oldest Wards in the country, protected by vast wealth and influence. Itachi attends a prestigious institution where he can work to bridge the gulf between a prodigious child and a fully trained wizard.

 

It seems pretty fucking simple, even without the bonus of simmering civil unrest which will make hiding that much more challenging.

 

Itachi has to go to Hogwarts. His fate - Regulus’s fate - is highly tied to that of House of Black for the next five to six years.

 

If he is to go to Hogwarts, he best not risk another potentially-fatal heart attack. He has already taken the first step to prevent that - sufficiently diluted calming draughts. The second step - the more important step - is to avoid any conversations with Regulus. (It kills him to have to resort to that - to be glad of the silent treatment. But he is. His brother is, purely by being his brother, ideally placed to destroy his composure by a single off-hand comment. Right now, when stakes are this high, he can’t afford the risk of a temperamental nine-year-old taking his grief out on Itachi.)

 

So, Wednesday morning is spent in silence. Itachi’s supplies are packed and ready in a lovely trunk engraved with the Black crest. His Heir ring glints on his finger. He is washed, primped, hit with several charms of unknowable purpose, and equipped with a thick binder of Healer’s reports to give to McGonagall.

 

Ten o’clock comes, and Kreacher moves from his spot behind Itachi. His hands pause in combing through his hair. Itachi misses them fiercely already.

 

“It is time to leave.”

 

“Thank you Kreacher,” he says. The calming draught smooths his tone into a light drawl, easy and unconcerned. It’s a sign of weakness that he needs it at all. Which is all sorts of appropriate. He feels supremely weak today.

 

Their path to Hogwarts Express is geographically-confused. Out of London’s West End, they apparate to Castle Black, in the unplottable Black Lands in the North-West of England. From there, they take the Floo to a Magical cafe on King’s Cross Station.

 

The atmosphere, once the three Blacks exit the floo is - stifling. The cheerful bustle of families walking to and fro freezes and stops, and all eyes snap to Itachi. Gasps are heard, one little girl bursts into tears. It’s all very dramatic.

 

Itachi, drugged to his eyeballs, ignores them with aplomb. His chin is high, expression frozen in a mask of superior calm, his luggage hangs off his wrist in the form of a charm on a bracelet. Arcturus moves first, taking long but unhurried steps towards the correct platform. It’s interesting, he thinks, that the three Dark Purebloods fit in with the Muggles almost impeccably. In contrast, most of the Wizarding population swan in with trunks and owls, pointy hats on full display, wands tucked into front pockets casually.

 

“I take it this - charming tradition - is necessary only for the first trip?” He asks Arcturus. “A floo to Hogsmeade is surely more than adequate if it’s the Ward scheme that we need to observe.”

 

“Not at all. Students ride the Hogwarts express all seven years. Even those that live in Hogsmeade.”

 

Itachi is still trying to determine if that was a joke or not when they reach the platform.

 

“Go on.”

 

“There is no point in protesting, is there?” He asks, eying the wall between platform nine and platform ten.

 

“Indeed not.”

 

Itachi sighs.

 

He refuses to run into a wall, but there seems no reason to. It’s just a silly tradition. Well, Itachi will not be bowling over some hapless first year - or indeed be bowled over by one - for someone’s twisted sense of humour.

 

He strolls forward, and indeed, the illusion lets him pass without issue.

 

Fucking Wizards.

 

He has already said his goodbyes to Kreacher, and honestly, he plans to call him this evening so that he can squeeze some comfort out of his Unseelie-parent. Regulus hasn’t looked him in the eye since their disagreement, so that’s a bust. Grandfather stopped being Grandfather since the floo, and Lord Black doesn’t hold with such silly notions as sentiment.

 

He looks them over once, his family. Kreacher stands half-visible behind Regulus, large eyes filled with proud grief. Regulus is a vision, as always, sharply dressed, and chubby-cheeked, loose ringlets falling around his face in an artful mess. Lord Black is the soul of dignity, looking back at him with steely confidence. He nods back at him. He will be the best damn Black the school has ever seen - until Regulus comes along, naturally.

 

“Merry part.” He can’t think of anything better to say, so he compensates with a low bow. “I love you.” He adds under his breath, pitched so it doesn’t carry past his family.

 

Without waiting and being disappointed by a lack of reply, he turns sharply on his heel and enters the train. Fucking Hogwarts.